Update: Pension deal hinges on cars and gas; House to override HB 279 veto; Hemp stalls

03/25/2013 08:48 PM

House Democrats’ marathon caucus meeting yielded a proposal on a public pension deal that a slim majority of Democrats could support and also led to a narrow vote in favor of overriding the governor’s veto of House Bill 279, the “Religious Freedom” bill.

The House adjourned shortly after 11 p.m. Monday. And the Senate already had moved to return to work Tuesday at 9 a.m., thereby locking in the 30th and final day of the legislation session.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Pretonsburg, said he wanted Tuesday as an unofficial working day to “round up the votes” on the pension-related measures. A bill outlining the funding would require three-fifths majority vote to pass because it deals with revenue.

“Right now we’re probably just a little bit short of the 60 votes and the 51 for the other,” he said, referring to the measure that would make tweaks to the Kentucky Retirement System. That includes a “hybrid” cash-balance system in which employee contributions are matched by the state and are guaranteed at least a 4 percent return.

Stumbo said he thought an extra day would give them enough time to get the votes and then the measures could be taken up on Wednesday for the final day of the session instead of Tuesday.

“If it jeopardizes the bill, it jeopardizes the bill,” he said of the Senate. “That’s their decision.”

Senate Republican leaders, including Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, argued that the House has caused the hold-up on the pension bill along with several other key pieces of legislation.

Pension funding:

Gov. Steve Beshear’s initial proposal Monday to increase the state’s general fund contribution into the Kentucky Retirement System by making tax code changes and closing loopholes. Under Beshear’s suggested plan, that would have been “offset” by a 2-cent-per-gallon cut in the gas tax in July 2014.

Many House Democrats balked at that provision, which they argued in caucus would curtail counties ability to repave and build roads. Many local government officials, especially in Eastern Kentucky opposed to the move.

Stumbo said the majority caucus agreed to slice the gas tax cut in half. In addition, Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, suggested a plan to take off a tax credit when used cars are traded in for other used cars.

With the extra money that will bring in for the state, plus the other tax changes in the governor’s plan, that would generate $110 million, Stumbo said. Lawmakers are now aiming to find $100 million to increase the state’s contribution into the Kentucky Retirement System.

So Stumbo said the governor has agreed to put the extra $10 million back into the road fund, which more House Democrats liked.

Religious Freedom bill

Inside their closed-door caucus meeting, House Democrats debated whether to override Beshear’s veto on HB 279 that has been dubbed the religious freedom bill.

Democrats voted 27-26 in favor of bringing the measure back to the floor, multiple House Democrats confirmed.

Beshear said the measure would have “unintended consequences.” Its sponsor, Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said the measure would protect someone who acts because of a sincere religious belief unless the government can show “clear and convincing evidence” that the person’s actions violates other laws.

During the caucus meeting, many conservative Democrats spoke in favor of overriding it, including Damron and Rep. Richard Henderson of Montgomery County. Others, such as Reps. Kelly Flood of Lexington and Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville who opposed the bill when it first came to the House floor earlier this session, also passionately argued against it saying it’s vague and could lead to discrimination.

Hemp bill negotiations stall

Negotiations between House and Senate leaders stalled out Monday afternoon on the bill to allow a framework for hemp.

Rep. Rocky Adkins, the House Democratic leader, said he was “shocked and disappointed” that senators were calling off the talks.

Sen. Paul Horback, R-Shelbyville, and the sponsor of the original version had been pushing to restore many of the original proposals that would set up a regulatory framework to allow hemp to be grown if the federal government gave the OK.

Stumbo said late Monday night that “it ain’t going to pass” unless it was changed to allow law enforcement more authority and oversight than the original bill.

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