McDaniel Recaps General Assembly Session for Covington Commission
State Senator Chris McDaniel, the Republican from Taylor Mill, just finished his first General Assembly session in Frankfort after being elected in November. McDaniel's twenty-third district encompasses northern Kenton County, including Covington.
He spoke with The River City News before recapping the session for the Covington City Commission on Tuesday night.
"The process is different than what I expected but it was also very good," the freshman senator said of his first session. He cited the different needs of the varying regions across Kentucky as being of particular interest. "Some of the things that worry people in Covington have a different impact on people in Pikeville," he said. "The process is interesting in how you get to the best solution for everyone."
Overall, McDaniel called the thirty day session a success. Legislators were able to pass pension reform, an immediate concern for the Republican when he headed to Frankfort. McDaniel believes the changes will save the state from bankruptcy. Those changes include fully funding the annual increased estimated state obligation to the pension plan, known as the actuarially recommended contribution (ARC), beginning in Fiscal Year 2015; creating a hybrid cash-balance plan for future state and local employees hired on or after January 1, 2014, which gives those new employees better portability of their pension benefits; an annual cost-of-living adjustment for retirees if the General Assembly fully prefunds it in the year it is provided; and improves transparency and legislative oversight of the Kentucky Retirement Systems and increases local government representation on its Board.
Other highlights of success in the session, according to McDaniel, include the passage of hemp legislation, special taxing district reform, military voting rights, and human trafficking legislation. Two early graduation bills are points of pride for the senator. One will allow students to collect 100% of his or her allotted share of lottery funds even if the student graduates early. Previously those students would only collect 75% if graduating in three years instead of four.
Some legislation that McDaniel wanted to see pass did not make it through this time. Those include angel investor tax credits, redistricting, and changing gubernatorial election years to fall in line with presidential elections, a move that the senator says would save the state millions of dollars.
The move would have also allowed Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, an extra year in office, though 2016 instead of 2015. "I'm not so concerned about the electoral politics of it," McDaniel said. He said counties spend $377,000 of its operating budget on elections. McDaniel will bring the legislation back up for consideration in the 2014 session.
The senator was applauded for his work by the city commission. "Whatever your politics, (McDaniel) worked more closely with the city and county than anyone I've seen," said city commissioner Steve Frank.
One issue in which the senator was in direct opposition to the city commission, however, was House Bill 279, known as the Religious Freedom Bill. The bill was overwhelmingly approved by both chambers in the state legislature and says that someone who acts because of a sincere religious belief can’t be infringed upon unless the government can show “clear and convincing evidence” that it violates other laws.
Civil rights organizations worried that the law would disqualify legislation that protects gay citizens in four Kentucky cities, including Covington. The city commission unanimously approved a resolution opposing the legislation. Governor Beshear vetoed it but the legislature, including McDaniel, voted to override the veto, making it law.
When McDaniel returns to Frankfort for the session in 2014, he hopes to tackle some of the issues left on the table this time around including legislative pension loopholes, capping the state debt at 6%, and prevailing wage legislation.
Redistricting will also be a contentious issue as it will be considered by the lawmakers in an election year. McDaniel said he was disappointed the issue was not taken up this time but looks forward to the fight next time. "If you don't want to get in the middle of a fight you shouldn't run in the first place," he said.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Chris McDaniel