Legislative Update - March 23, 2020
Everyone is grappling with COVID-19 differently and in their own way. But for a brief moment, it seems that our nation, along with the rest of the world, agrees on a common enemy: the Coronavirus.
The reflection on last week has made me proud to be a Kentuckian and an American. I have witnessed a true community effort in our District and throughout Kentucky: people helping people. It is great to see the prompt response of local citizens, volunteers, teachers, government officials, first-responders, healthcare workers, churches and others who are helping our most vulnerable.
There is a renewed sense of supporting local small business and sharing between neighbors. The American response to trying times is what makes us strong and unique in the world. Eventually, COVID-19 will pass and our communities will return to a normal lifestyle. But, let us not forget or abandon the sense of community we feel right now. We will likely need it again at some point in the future.
The Kentucky General Assembly remained committed to fulfilling its constitutional obligation to pass a two-year state budget during Week 11 of the 2020 Regular Session. Due to the ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19, the General Assembly along with the assistance of an incredible legislative staff, moved expeditiously to ensure that our Constitutional responsibilities were met, while also ensuring the safety of all who were involved.
On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of House Bill (HB) 352, the biennial budget bill. Efforts that have led to getting to this point in the budget process have required intensive reviews, substantive discussions and very late nights. However, I want to make it abundantly clear that the budget process is not over. Though the bill has passed both the House and the Senate, there is still much discussion to be had between the two chambers, before the bill is sent to the Governor.
The Senate’s version of the bill would bolster the state’s budget reserve trust fund while predicating some spending on Kentucky meeting revenue forecasts made before COVID-19 disrupted economies around the world, including here in Kentucky. The budget reserve trust fund, better known as the Rainy Day Fund, would increase to $525 million under the Senate’s plan. The House proposed $392 million and the governor proposed $316 million for the fund.
HB 352 would fund the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding program, a formula-driven allocation of state funds to local school districts, at $4,161 per pupil, an increase from the previous budget and the highest level ever for school funding.
The Senate’s version of the budget provides the money necessary to give teacher raises and also requires a 1 percent raise be given to classified school employees, such as bus drivers and custodians.
HB 352 would provide $18.7 million to “harden” schools, a reference to investments in physical safety measures such as reinforced doors, and $38 million to hire more school mental health professionals. These were called for in the 2019 School Safety and Resiliency Act.
Biennial budget discussions in the HB 352 conference committee are currently underway. Updated revenue forecasts have been requested from the state’s team of nonpartisan economists in the hopes of crafting a final budget that more accurately reflects the financial health of the state.
In other week 11 business, the Senate gave final passage to a legislative priority measure, Senate
Bill (SB) 2, also known as the voter ID bill. In efforts to prevent in-person voter fraud and ensure public confidence in elections, SB 2 would require voters to present a government photo ID to vote, or present another approved form of identification and affirm under penalty of law that they had an impediment from accessing a government photo ID.
An emergency relief measure for school districts was contained in an amended SB 177. One provision to the bill would extend the number of non-traditional instructional days available to school districts to help them make up school days lost due to COVID-19.
Other provisions to the bill would allow school districts to use 2018-19 school year data to determine average daily attendance for funding under the state’s SEEK formula, require school districts to approve emergency leave for teachers or classified employees with COVID-19 health or related concerns, as well as allow districts to continue to provide free lunch per established emergency procedures. SB 177 will become effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature.
A number of beneficial bills passed the Senate. You can find those bills at https://legislature.ky.gov.
In an effort to wrap up the 2020 legislative session in as few days as possible, legislative leaders announced on Thursday that they would not convene on all the days allowed by the state constitution between now and April 15. Instead, they will convene on March 26 and April 1 before starting a veto recess that will last until the session’s final days on April 14 and 15. In making this decision, we have fulfilled our obligation to the people of the Commonwealth and our oath to the Constitution. This also protects the legislature’s constitutional ability to override any vetoes of the governor that the constitution grants him to do. Kentucky’s citizens deserve to have their voices heard by those of us they have entrusted to represent them, and I will not abdicate the authority of the Republican majority or the legislative branch.
Technology allows one to continue to engage in the legislative process during the health emergency. Kentucky Educational Television (KET) has expanded its daily online coverage to show even more committee meetings. The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will livestream any committee meetings that aren’t covered by KET. To see the daily meeting list with links to livestreams, visit www.legislature.ky.gov and select “live streams” on the home screen.
Welcoming visitors to my office over the course of this legislative session has been enjoyable for me. However, given the safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, those visits are no longer possible. Your health and safety are my top priorities. I welcome your thoughts as we continue to finalize the state budget and road plan in the conference committee. I am honored to be your voice in Frankfort. God bless you and be safe and healthy throughout the remainder of the coronavirus concerns.