Kevin Wheatley, State Journal

File Photo Lexington HERALD-LEADER

Sen. Gerald Neal knew he was part of something historic when, as a freshman at Kentucky State University, he joined a mass of 10,000 who marched peacefully on the Capitol with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders 50 years ago today.

Some of the excitement he felt that day — “We thought we were on the path of eliminating racism in society, bigotry,” he said — has resurfaced as organizers recognize the Freedom March on Frankfort.

Kentucky Constables Association

The push to abolish Kentucky constables will continue in the 2014 legislative session, despite failed efforts in recent years. Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said Tuesday he will reintroduce a constitutional amendment in the 2014 session that would give fiscal courts authority to eliminate the office of constable by ordinance. Franklin County has six constables, who have law enforcement powers similar to sheriffs by law. They largely perform fee-based duties such as serving court paperwork and traffic control.

Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer may be on trial for three weeks in Frankfort’s federal courthouse, prosecutors said Thursday during Farmer’s arraignment. In addition, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Wier told Farmer he could not take a planned vacation to Mexico and must remain in the state until his trial begins. Farmer, who played on the 1992 University of Kentucky basketball squad dubbed “The Unforgettables,” pleaded not guilty to four counts of misusing state resources and one charge of accepting property in exchange for a Department of Agriculture grant.

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House and Senate leaders will attempt a last-minute compromise to reform Kentucky’s beleaguered public pension system during the session’s final day Tuesday. Negotiations on the pension issue, arguably the largest unresolved item on the General Assembly’s agenda, lasted throughout the day Monday. Gov. Steve Beshear met with House and Senate leadership, and House Democrats discussed proposals for several hours.

Lawmakers continue to work toward a resolution on public employee pensions, arguably the top unresolved issue of the 2013 legislative session. House and Senate leaders have been at an impasse on systematic changes to pension plans for future state and municipal workers, legislators and judges, as well as funding methods to pay for pension contributions expected to cost up to $120 million more in fiscal year 2015.

House and Senate leaders met with Gov. Steve Beshear Friday, looking to find common ground on a plan to reform Kentucky’s ailing public pension system and avoid a special session this year. Those involved described the meeting as productive, and talks are expected to continue during the upcoming 10-day veto recess. The two legislative chambers have passed fundamentally different retirement plans for future state and municipal workers, and the House has proposed a dedicated funding stream to pay full pension contributions, something the state has not done in years.

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House Democratic leaders will likely propose adding a 6 percent sales tax on Kentucky Lottery ticket sales and expanding available lottery games to fund future pension contributions. Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said the lottery sales tax would generate $49 million annually, and new lottery games could bring in between $60 million and $90 million over time.

Standard & Poor’s Rating Services has downgraded Kentucky’s financial outlook from “stable” to “negative” amid concerns over unfunded liabilities in the state’s pension systems. While S&P noted the state is experiencing a healthy recovery in its economic base and has moderate debt burden, the ratings service said structural imbalances in the budget and sizable pension debts drove its outlook down.

A public pension reform package is expected to get a vote on the Senate floor about a week after it’s filed, Senate Republican leaders said Wednesday. GOP and Democratic senators heard recommendations from a pension task force co-chaired by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer in a private meeting Wednesday.

With three storage centers throughout Frankfort, tracking down state records can be a hassle. But a consolidated facility should make archives easier to sort through, a state official says. The construction schedule hasn’t been set, but the new records center will take about seven months to complete, Finance and Administration Cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner said.

Retooling Kentucky’s tax code and reining in multibillion-dollar unfunded liabilities in the state pension systems should be top priorities for the General Assembly when it convenes for an abbreviated session Tuesday, legislators say. Those matters may require a special session given the brevity of odd-year, 30-day sessions, but challenging decisions are ahead, they told The State Journal.

The push to legalize industrial hemp production in Kentucky will begin in the state Senate, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says. The Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, which met Friday for the second time since its decade of dormancy, discussed possible legislation for the upcoming 30-day session. Finding a bill sponsor won’t be difficult, Comer told the panel. Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, was mentioned among those mentioned as a possible sponsor.

Kentucky’s largest retirement fund for state employees, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System non-hazardous plan, has less than a quarter of the money needed to pay projected benefits, say actuaries with Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting. Tom Cavanaugh, CEO of the actuarial firm, told the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees Wednesday that the KERS non-hazardous plan is projected to dip below 10 percent funded in 2019 before improving.

Kentucky’s U.S. senators told a crowd of supporters they will repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, when given the opportunity. About 400 stood on the Capitol steps in Frankfort at a rally headlined by Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and organized by the Louisville Tea Party Tuesday. All of the speakers focused on President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.

Two Kentucky Retirement Systems trustees laid out their concerns with a proposed change in health insurance for retirees older than 65 before a record crowd Tuesday. More than 150 retirees attended the monthly meeting of Kentucky Public Retirees Bluegrass West chapter at Frankfort's VFW Post 4075, which dwarfed the previous record of around 90, KPR officials said. KRS elected trustees Susan Smith and Robert Henson spoke at length about the possible switch from a self-insurance plan to a Humana Medicare Advantage plan for those 65 and older.