2013 General Assembly: A half-dozen issues that leaders agree must be debated

12/31/2012 12:02 PM

  • Admit Kentucky has problems. Check. A public pension system teetering on the brink of financial disaster and a Medicaid managed care scheme that no one is happy with, to name a couple biggies.
  • Study the problems and suggest possible solutions. Check. One group of legislators exhaustively debated the pension system problem over the last six months and suggested several reforms.
  • Agree on the best solutions. Ah, that’s where the 2013 General Assembly will begin.

But the leaders of the respective legislative chambers at least start with similar to-do lists for the 30-day session that begins Jan. 8.

Sen. Robert Stivers, whom Senate Republicans selected in November to be the next Senate president, issued a statement Friday saying that he hadn’t yet picked which legislation will get the symbolic designations of Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2. Still, the statement listed major areas he wants to see the General Assembly tackle in 2013.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, mentioned many of those same areas during a wide-ranging interview with the capitol press corps on Friday.

Here are six areas in which Senate and House leaders at least agree they must tackle — in some form or fashion — in 2013:

1. Public Pension Reforms

Legislators have finally reached the near-universal recognition that they must take action to prevent the public employee pension systems from collapsing under the weight of chronic underfunding, automatic cost of living increases to the pensions and underperforming investments of the funds.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, helped lead the legislative task force that recommended the General Assembly make the full payment into the Kentucky Retirement System for the first time in a decade. That means finding an extra $300 million in fiscal year 2015 to make the more than $800 million payment.

Stumbo said Friday he wants to see a dedicated source of revenue to cover that cost so future legislators will be less tempted to skimp on that payment to fund other government programs as recent General Assemblies and governors have done.

Stumbo also said he supports a “hybrid” pension plan for future state workers as the task force also suggested. Under that recommendation, 5 percent of employees’ checks will go to a retirement fund, while the state will put in 4 percent of their pay and the fund will guarantee a 4 percent return.

Meanwhile, Thayer has said the Senate Republicans remain open to possible funding sources but said taxing more pension income of all retirees isn’t his first choice. Here’s how he put it earlier in December at a the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce legislative preview session:

2. Medicaid Managed Care

Paying outside companies to handle the billing and payment for health care of Medicaid patients hasn’t gone smoothly.

Doctors, hospitals and other providers aren’t happy with how fast they’re getting paid for services and the managed care companies themselves haven’t been thrilled with the state’s program. One provider, Kentucky Spirit, even broke its contract this fall to bolt from the state.

Stumbo suggested the state might have to set up an independent board to settle billing/payment disputes between providers and the state and managed care companies the state hires. He said managed care can work and keep costs down — if run effectively.

Stivers has said for the last two months that the legislature must get more involved in smoothing out the wrinkles in managed care now that Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration has had 16 months to set up the scheme. Here’s how he put it in a November interview with Pure Politics:

3. Possible Medicaid Expansion/Oversight of Health Benefit Exchange

This is one of the areas with the most disagreement among legislative leaders to start. But at least lawmakers agree that it must be debated.

Many Senate Republicans, such as Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Julie Denton, oppose Kentucky agreeing to expand Medicaid to cover health care for those who make up to 138 percent of the poverty rate. That’s one part of the U.S. Affordable Care Act that could kick in by 2014. The federal government would cover the cost of the expansion until 2017 when the state would have to cover 5 percent. That share would go up to 10 percent by 2020.

Stumbo, however, said he wants Gov. Steve Beshear to agree to the expansion. Here’s why:

4. Oversight of Special Taxing Districts

Stumbo already announced a bill to tighten regulation of special taxing districts — which include sewer and library districts and health departments — would be House Bill 1 in 2013.

State Auditor Adam Edelen called for reforms after his office embarked on an effort to identify and track the more than 1,200 entities that can impose tax or fees on Kentuckians — a network he dubbed “ghost government.”

Thayer has been pushing for similar reforms for several sessions. And Stivers listed this as one of the top priorities for Senate Republicans in 2013.

5. Online Voting for Military Personnel

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announced in September that her top priority in 2013 was to urge lawmakers to allow overseas Kentucky military personnel to vote online.

At the time, then-Senate President David Williams said he planned to give the legislation the symbolic spot of Senate Bill 1. That is now up to Stivers and the other members of the new 2013 leadership team. But Stivers still listed it among the more than half-dozen top priorities for the 30-day session.

6. Clean-up to Pill Law

Legislative leaders have agreed that they will need to tweak a law the 2012 legislature passed aimed at cracking down on prescription pill abuse. For instance, Stumbo said they need to clarify that hospitals don’t have to report to the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system each time a dose of pain medication is given to a patient.


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