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New Senate President reflects on first session

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State Senate President Robert Stivers State Senate President Robert Stivers

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - A new era in Kentucky lawmaking has completed its first test. The General Assembly wrapped up their 2013 session with a new Senate President Robert Stivers.

Before the session began in January, Stivers said his goal was to work across the aisle. On Wednesday, when asked if he thought he accomplished that, he only replied that he tried. Stivers said he won't judge himself. He leaves that up to the voters.

The first matter of business for the Republican in his new role was Senate Bill 1. It was meant to allow Kentucky's military to cast their ballot via email.

Stivers worked with Democratic Secretary of State Allison Grimes on what they referred to Kentucky Heroes Voting Bill Initiative. While the bill did pass in the last day of the session, it did not pass in its original form.  Instead, military can get their ballots via email, but cannot send them back via email.

Stivers said the reason for the change was an outcry from different groups, including county clerks who were concerned about the integrity of the ballot.

"We communicated about the issue and we came up with what we did for SB 1 (Tuesday) night. I'll say this, I'm disappointed it couldn't go further, but the technology and the belief in the system people didn't feel it could go further. However, the goal of the Secretary is the appropriate goal."

Pension reform appeared to be the big accomplishment of the 2013 meeting of the General Assembly. Senate Bill 2 was also passed on the last day, which helped avoid a Special Session for the first time in at least five years. Even though it took until the last day to come to an agreement, Stivers said it was not just passed through last minute.

"We, for the last three weeks, were virtually in constant communications with each other about theories and ideas and understanding the different proposals that were being brought forth. It was a lot of work."

Future government employees will now get a retirement similar to a 401k. it's a decision that doesn't sit well with some groups, including the Kentucky Education Association, who believes a decent pension is one of the few pay-offs in the education system.

Stivers said the plan voted in offers a four percent return guarantee and to those who disagree with their plan, he said they had to find a fix now. "At a point in time, it would be a point of no return. I think this secures people who are currently employed or currently receiving benefits."

Stivers said putting the focus on pensions came at the cost of passing Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 210. "That is the most disappointing aspect of the session for me without a doubt."

SB 6 would have increased the penalty for those trafficking cocaine, heroin or meth. HB 210 would have provided financial assistance to students in Kentucky's coal counties. That program, Stivers said, would have cost four million dollars. "Being prudent and reasonable, we had to see what was going to happen with the overall picture of the pensions before I felt comfortable moving those forward."

Stivers said after the session was over, he heard from his predecessor David Williams, who oversaw the Senate for 12 years. Stivers said Williams congratulated him on getting pension reform passed, something Williams had been discussing for years.

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