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Local legislators met with constituents Saturday morning at the Marion County Farm Bureau Office to discuss issues ranging from casino gaming to redistricting to vultures.
About 20 people attended the annual Farm Bureau Legislative Breakfast with State Rep. Terry Mills and State Sen. Jimmy Higdon.
Both legislators agreed that funding the state retirements system will be a priority during the 2013 General Assembly. The retirement system is underfunded by around $30 billion, according to Higdon.
“We have to do something,” he said.
Mills said he looked into local data to illustrate the problem facing the system. He found there are 541 Marion Countians who are contributing to the state retirement systems, and 278 Marion Countians receiving state retirement pensions.
That means fewer than two people paying into the system for every one person receiving a pension payment, Mills said.
He added that he has been a proponent of casino gaming in Kentucky. He also said if gaming is approved, then a portion of the revenue could be dedicated to funding for the retirement system.
Gaming has been discussed since Gov. Steve Beshear was first elected in 2007, but the legislature has not yet been able to pass any legislation. With recent changes in the Senate leadership, a bill to let the public vote on allowing casino gaming might be possible, according to Higdon and Mills.
Higdon said the Senate’s top priority is a proposal by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. She would like the state to allow military members stationed overseas to cast absentee ballots via computer.
Mills noted that 1,700 absentee ballots were requested by military members in the last election, but only 1,300 were returned in time to be counted.
Higdon said some opposition to the bill has already emerged. Mills added that the main concern is about someone hacking into the computer system.
Mills said House Bill 1 is still being crafted.
“It hasn’t been filed yet, so I haven’t seen it,” he said.
He did say he’s being told that it will relate to the special taxing districts, something that State Auditor Adam Edelen focused on last year. Mills added that they want to improve accountability and transparency for those districts across the state.
Redistricting is another issue that may be addressed. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the state legislative districts approved last year were unconstitutional.
Although the new Senate President Robert Stivers has expressed a preference to wait to deal with redistricting, he is in the minority, according to Higdon.
School safety, a bill to allow year-round coyote hunting and legislation (sponsored by Mills) to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp could also be considered.
Farmer Steve Downs said they would also like the legislature to take action to allow hunting of black vultures, which are currently protected by federal laws. He said these are different than the turkey vultures that feed on animals that have already died. The black vultures have killed livestock, including calves while they are being born.
Mills said the legislature also needs to look at funding for the state╒s infrastructure, and Higdon said they will likely look at revisions to the pill mill bill approved in a special session last year.
But Mills made it clear, he wants to make sure any changes don’t minimize the impact of the pill mill bill.
“It’s OK to tweak,” he said. “But it shouldn’t make it weak.”