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Here we go again

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By Stephen Lega

The 2013 General Assembly has begun. Although last week was primarily devoted to procedural and administrative matters, plenty of issues are already being bandied about.

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The legislature won’t return for a full session until Feb. 5. Since this year is a 30-day session, that doesn’t leave much time for the legislators to do anything (or if you’re more cynical, to screw anything up).

State Sen. Jimmy Higdon and State Rep. Terry Mills both expect pension reform for state employees to be high on the agenda. 

The Herald-Leader has reported that Kentucky only has 44 percent of the funding needed to cover the pensions of current and future retirees. To get back in shape fiscally, the fund needs an additional $325 million. That means either cutting other areas or finding more sources of revenue, which leads me to believe that expanded gaming may actually have a chance this session. The fact that David Williams is no longer leading the Senate helps, too.

Rep. Mills has said in the past that he supports expanded gaming as a potential funding source, but he has also acknowledged that the gambling has a dark side as well. Because of that, he has once again filed a bill to set aside funding to create a program to assist people who have gambling problems. 

This seems both reasonable and responsible. Let’s hope the bill still stays that way if it gets through the legislative meat grinder.

Mills has also introduced a bill to allow individuals to grow industrial hemp, provided they pass a background check and meet licensing requirements.

Mills has been clear that while he supports legalizing industrial hemp, he does not support legalizing marijuana. This is an issue that has been raised for several years in the General Assembly. Here’s hoping it actually gets somewhere.

It should help that other groups are recognizing the potential for industrial hemp in Kentucky as well. Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and four members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation (Democrats and Republicans) are among those who have expressed support for allowing industrial hemp to be grown in the Bluegrass State.

A push from Kentucky and some other states could be just the thing to encourage Congress to pass similar legislation, which is essential for any state laws to matter.

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson headed the Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform, which issued a 453-page report in December. (I have not yet begun to read it, although I’m sure it’s as exciting as a 453-page report about taxes could be.)

Given the size of the report and the fact that this is a short session, I think I agree with Sen. Higdon that there may be discussion about the proposals, but legislation may not be seriously considered this year unless the governor calls for a special session.

Last week closed with another item worth noting. 

Family members of and co-workers in the Marion County Sheriff’s Office Anthony Rakes were in Frankfort for a special recognition. Both the Kentucky Senate and the Kentucky House of Representatives passed resolutions Jan. 11 to adjourn in honor and memory of Rakes.