David Williams and Senate GOP call for pension, immigration and campaign reforms

12/10/2010 06:13 PM

FRANKFORT — Republican Senate President David Williams on Friday announced an ambitious agenda for the 2011 session marked by proposals for tighter immigration enforcement, new campaign finance restrictions, state pension reforms and reworking the tax code.

Williams, after concluding a day-and-a-half retreat with the Senate’s majority caucus of Republicans, said he was confident the legislature would approve big parts of that agenda even though the 2011 is a shorter 30-day session — half the number of working days than even-year sessions.

The agenda, which Republicans are calling the “Agenda for Prosperity,” reflects many of the talking points Republicans used in the 2010 campaign, including creating 48-hour periods for lawmakers to read spending bills before a vote.

And several proposals came with political undertones related to the governor’s race. Williams is running in the Republican primary for governor with the hopes of facing incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in the fall.

One of the Republicans’ proposals, for instance, would call together state leaders to look at reworking the state’s tax code. This comes after Beshear said on Pure Politics that he had no interest in tackling.

The measure Williams and the Republicans will introduce would create a commission of certified public accounts, professors and other experts in the tax field. They will not be a “study group,” Williams said, but will be tasked with creating a whole new tax code.

The group’s proposal will be written into bill form and would be voted on first in the House without any legislators being allowed to add amendments or change the bill, Williams said. If the bill passes the House, it will go to the Senate and if the Senate passes the bill — also without being allowed to change anything — it would go to the governor. If he signs it, the bill would become Kentucky’s new tax code.

Williams also told reporters the caucus wants to change campaign finance laws for statewide candidates by barring them taking donations from lobbyists or their relatives. That would apply the same restrictions to a statewide candidate, such as Beshear, that are placed on legislators, such as Williams, who are running for re-election or for statewide office.

Republicans want the same rules for everyone, Williams said.

Other highlights of the Republicans’ agenda include:

  • Proposing an immigration bill similar to one passed by Arizona earlier this year. According to the agenda, the legislation is titled “Immigration Enforcement,” yet Williams refused to go into specifics when pressed by reporters about the potential bill.
  • Attempting to change the state employee pension plan from to a 401(k)-like set-up called “defined contribution” for future state hires. Those workers would pay into their own accounts and get matching money from the state instead of receiving set pension checks determined by their salaries and service.
  • Closing a loophole that allows legislators to boost their pensions by taking higher paying jobs in the executive branch or elsewhere in government that pays a higher salary.
  • Allowing local school districts to create charter schools if they choose.
  • Proposing a  “neighborhood schools” bill that would force districts to allow parents to enroll their children in the school closest to their home. That bill already was pre-filed by Williams and Sen. Dan Seum in response to the controversial school assignment plan in Jefferson County.

House Republicans released a shorter agenda during the 2010 campaign.

Neither Democratic caucus has released any plans. In an interview, Beshear said he has a limited agenda this legislative session focusing mainly on raising the school dropout age.

Williams opponent in the 2011 governor’s primary, Phil Moffett, released a statement saying voters should be wary of Williams’ agenda.

“The devil is always in the details when Williams and Beshear start working together on legislation,” Moffett said in the statement. “We should be very suspicious and hold their proposals to great scrutiny because every other time they have gotten together to reform government it has put Kentuckians deeper into debt.”

—Reporting by Kenny Colston


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