Lawmakers and experts highlight topics expected to be tackled in 2019 session at Chamber conference
The 2019 Kentucky Legislative Preview, a one-day gathering of the most prominent and influential policy-makers in Kentucky, featured expert analysis and prediction on what to expect in the upcoming 2019 session. The following story is a wrap-up of the many panels throughout the day.
Jennings and Elridge Talk Politics
Following the 2018 election cycle where Republicans maintained control in both legislative chambers, everyone is talking about the 2019 governor’s race and whether or not Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin will win reelection. RunSwitch Partner and CNN Contributor Scott Jennings and Kentucky Education Association (KEA) Government Affairs Director Colmon Elridge joined Jacqueline Pitts, Managing Editor of The Bottom Line, to discuss the state of politics in Kentucky on Monday.
Jennings said he is unsure who Gov. Matt Bevin will choose as his running mate for his 2019 re-election campaign but stated he doesn’t believe it will be current Lt. Gov. Jeanne Hampton. Jennings also said he believes the Democrats will elect Attorney General Andy Beshear as their candidate in the race but he feels Bevin will easily win reelection.
Elridge stated he expects the Democrats to have a crowded primary with multiple candidates, and he hopes to see his party to not allow Republicans to define them during the election process, stating campaign ads and rhetoric have “gone to the gutter” in recent years.
Jennings and Elridge discussed the influence of outside groups in elections, as the KEA and Jenning’s super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, have both spent millions of dollars on state legislative races. Jennings stated he believes more speech is good to have in the realm and if people are unhappy with outside groups, campaign finance laws should be revisited while Elridge said he feels the influence of outside groups can oftentimes have negative impacts on the election process.
The panel also discussed the 2018 general election outcomes as Republicans maintained supermajorities in both the state House and state Senate after many expected a “blue wave” following tough votes on issues like reforming teachers’ pensions and tax reform.
Jennings stated the Republicans who addressed those tough issues head on saw victory on election night, showing it is important to stand behind your record rather than shying away from the issues. Elridge, on the other hand, said this election cycle was not focused on issues and instead centered around attacks from both sides tying candidates to a “boogie man” from either party, which he said is not how these campaigns should be run.
As for whether or not Democrats will be able to win elections in Kentucky in the coming years following many difficult election cycles, Jennings said the state will continue to remain very red at both the state and federal levels and expects the legislature to continue to remain in GOP control since redistricting will take place in the coming years which will make the legislative districts solidly Republican. Elridge stated he believes the Democratic party will be able to refocus on issues and see victories in the coming years.
Emerging and Competitiveness Issues
In a panel on emerging competitiveness issues, legislators discussed the prospects for issues like additional tax reforms, medical marijuana, sports betting, and more to start the day.
Sports wagering could be an issue with bipartisan support in the 2019 session as many on the panel discussed the potential revenue legislation could bring into the state. (Read more about the issue and revenue estimates provided by experts here.)
Medical marijuana is likely to be heavily discussed in the upcoming session but not likely to see passage in 2019, panelist said. Sen. Alvarado, a doctor from Winchester, said more research needs to be done by the medical community on the topic and how medical marijuana is defined. Democratic Sen. McGarvey said even if an individual is for legalizing medical marijuana, which he is, it is a complex and complicated issue, and he believes Kentucky will not pass it in the coming year. As a small business owner, Rep. Pratt said the business liability part of the issue must be addressed in any legislation.
Legislators expect unemployment insurance to come back up next session with many on the panel agreeing the competitiveness of Kentucky’s system is lagging behind surrounding states and it is a crucial workforce issue.
After tax reforms were passed in the 2018 session which lowered the individual income tax and broadened the base on sales tax, continued efforts are expected over the coming years to make Kentucky more competitive by moving to a more consumption-based system. The Republican lawmakers on the panel said they expect smaller tweaks to reforms to be passed in the 2019 session with larger changes coming in following years as 60 votes are required to make such changes outside of a budget year. Sen. McGarvey said he also believes tax reform will continue to be an issue for the legislature and asked that the minority caucuses in each legislative chamber be engaged in that process.
Criminal Justice and Opioid
Kentucky Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, and Rep. Jason Nemes discussed the importance of criminal justice issues and the need to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic on a panel moderated by Trey Greyson of Frost Brown Todd.
The extreme costs of Kentucky’s criminal justice system and the faults within the system were key points highlighted by the panel. Rep. Nemes said there is a notion that being “tough on crime” is crucial but he noted there are billions of dollars going to housing people in prison, many of which don’t need to be there, while efforts against human trafficking and the state police are not being fully funded.
Sen. Westerfield said that bail reform will likely be brought up in the 2019 session. He discussed the need to remove the money aspect from bail decisions on low level offenses which often keeps people behind bars leading to job losses and a cost to local governments of millions of dollars each year. Secretary Tilley stated the 37,000 low level offenders who were considered low to moderate risk cost the local governments and taxpayers $129 million in 2016 alone.
Other issues such as changing the punishments for possession and addressing disproportionate incarceration of African American youth were also highlighted by the panel as items that must be addressed to create a system that keeps people safe and works for Kentucky.
As Kentucky struggles to fund sufficient investment in transportation, legislators discussed the prospects for the passage of infrastructure investment measures.
During the 2018 session, Rep. Sal Santoro sponsored legislation that would have increased the gas tax and made changes to fee structures in order to generate more money for roads and bridges.
The panel, featuring Rep. Santoro, Rep. John Sims, Sen. Ernie Harris, and Sen. Paul Hornback, agreed something must be done on the issue as Kentucky lags behind surrounding states on infrastructure investment.
Democratic Rep. Sims said he believes the issue should garner bipartisan support as there needs to be more money going toward transportation and he noted the state’s registration fees have not been changed since the 60s. Sen. Hornback pointed to the federal toll credits soon going away as an element making the need to revamp the system even more crucial.
Accountability, potential reforms to the system, and graduation requirements were the focus of a panel on education featuring Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, Sen. Max Wise, and Rep. James Tipton moderated by Hinton Mills Vice President Adam Hinton.
As for what might be addressed in the 2019 session, the panel said school safety will be a priority for the legislature and Sen. Wise said a bill to address tribunal reform will also be introduced.
Health Care and Legal Liability
After the federal government recently approved Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver and a ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court overturning the state’s medical review panels law, a health care panel address what comes next for Medicaid in the state and other health issues on the horizon.
Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Deputy Secretary Kristi Putnam said the state anticipates an April “go live” date for the newly revised Medicaid rollout following the approval of Kentucky’s 1115 waiver. The panel agreed it is important to continue to educate Kentuckians about the changes to the program in the coming months.
As for what will be done about the overturning of the state’s medical review panels law, Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Rep. Kim Moser said they are unsure what the future of that topic is but expect to see more legislation on legal liability reform move through the legislature.
Energy and Environment
A panel of House and Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairs, Rep. Jim Gooch and Sen. Brandon Smith, and Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Bruce Scott discussed the energy issues facing the state ahead of the 2019 session.
Deputy Secretary Bruce Scott highlighted the need to address water and wastewater infrastructure and the safety of dams, especially those close to residences, and foreshadowed legislation that the Cabinet may propose in the next Legislative session. He also spoke of the Cabinet’s need for flexible funding – that is, funding that is not tied to a particular statutory program.
Senator Brandon Smith spoke of the high level of excitement about business opportunities in the Commonwealth and described innovative transportation of liquefied natural gas as a means to make Kentucky natural resources more marketable across the country and the world.
Representative Jim Gooch was optimistic about the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule that could help reduce overall pollution and still allow Kentucky to make effective use of its abundant natural energy sources.