BY MICHON LINDSTROM | KENTUCKY –
LOUISVILLE- The General Assembly will be back in session in January–with new leadership teams in place.
Louisville Sen. Morgan McGarvey will be leading the Democrats in the Senate as Minority Floor Leader. While the upcoming session is a short one, there are plenty of issues to tackle.
Sen. McGarvey says a lot the time will deal with cleaning up things from last year.
“I think we have to focus on fixing the tax reform bill from last year, we have got to have a more fair tax code in Kentucky,” he said. “We have to lift the tax that was put on non-profits and reduce some of the burdens that was put on working families from last tax bill.”
The tax reform bill was passed hastily during the 2018 session, and Republicans and Democrats alike have said it needs to be cleaned up. Sen. McGarvey says it’s not a surprise there were unintended consequences.
“How you could have anything other than unintended consequences when you pass a bill through that nobody has had time to read?” he said. “Yes, we had a tax bill last year in Kentucky that lowered taxes on the wealthiest and corporations, and raised taxes on the poorest individuals and non-profits. That’s not what we need to be doing in Kentucky, so I hope that is opened up. And if it is opened up, I hope that’s an area where parties can work together.”
The tax bill is not the only thing he will be focusing on in the upcoming session.
“We have to continue to focus on education, and funding education,” he said. “And making sure that we have a good Medicaid system in place.That people are getting the care and have the health insurance they need in Kentucky.”
What McGarvey doesn’t want to see is a repeat of 2018, which saw Republicans push legislation through with little to no Democrat input.
“My hope is that the process works more the way I think it was intended to. That is where everyone does get a voice,” he said. “We’re not always going to agree, I don’t want to paint some Pollyanna version of the Kentucky legislature but I do think there are some fundamental fair aspects of how we should operate. And debating legislation in the open, getting different ideas out there, and making the bills the best we can, that’s something we should strive for.”
This is something he hopes will happen if lawmakers are required to take up pension reform again. If the Supreme Court upholds a lower courts opinion that Senate Bill 151 was passed unconstitutionally, Kentucky is back at square one with a multi-billion dollar unfunded pension system. Since the courts are only ruling on the procedure in which the bill was passed–not the contents of the bill, a similar version could pass through the legislature in 2019.
“I can see the same bill going through, but I don’t think that should happen,” McGarvey said. “We all recognize we have a pension obligation we need to fund, and we need to pay for it. Let’s actually sit down with stakeholders, with members of both parties, and come up with a plan that works and has buy-in from everybody.”
A measure Sen. McGarvey is hopeful will get bipartisan support is restoring voting rights to felons. While the legislation will not be filed until session begins, he says he has been working with various groups to garner support for the measure.
With Florida residents voting to restore voting rights to felons, Kentucky is one of the last states that has a lifetime ban on felons.
“We need to have a universal voting rights system in Kentucky, where if you have committed a crime, you have served your complete sentence including probation and parole and we have said you’ve paid your debt, and been rehabilitated, then you should have the right to vote in your community.” Sen. McGarvey said.
Criminal justice reform is an issue that McGarvey believes can reunite the two parties.
“When you see people looking at it rationally, with data and saying we want the same thing then you can get a good result,” he said.
While he plans to file a bill to restore voting rights to felons, he also believes an overall criminal justice reform package will be taken up again in this session–despite falling short last year.
“Never get discouraged if a bill doesn’t pass in one session,” he said. “A lot of big legislation does take multiple sessions to become law in Kentucky. I hope again a big criminal justice reform bill is introduced in Frankfort this year. You are seeing it on a federal level, and I think we can do it on the state level as well.”
Session begins January 8.