Legislative Update - Week 9

This week’s 30-day Regular Session activity
ended with over 100 bills on the Governor’s desk. Having already completed 28
legislative days, both the House and the Senate raced to approve bills through
the process until the figurative and literal 11th hour.

We’ve now entered into the veto recess
period, which means this week was the last opportunity for lawmakers to pass
bills and still have the opportunity to override any gubernatorial vetoes
before the final day of the legislative session. The Governor has 10 days to
sign a bill, let it become law without his signature, or veto it.

The Kentucky General Assembly approved the
second half of the state’s 24-month spending plan this week after uncertainties
from COVID-19 cut budget negotiation short nearly a year ago.

The executive budget, contained in House Bill 192, is as a near
continuation budget from the previous fiscal year with necessary modifications.
In addition to making structural changes that would ensure the road fund was
spent on roads, the executive budget would put $134 million into the rainy day
fund this year and another $609 million next year. The executive budget also
includes a 2 percent increase in funding for higher education through a
performance-based model, targeted raises for crime lab technicians, and money
for the coroner's office. This budget also addresses Kentucky’s severely
outdated unemployment insurance system.

This budget's spending plan would also
return coal severance money, or the tax revenue from mining coal, back to
coal-producing counties at record percentages.

Senate changes to the budget’s accompanying
revenue measure, known as House Bill 249,
would allow the motor vehicle commission to charge new fees, expand the film
industry tax credit, increase the cap on the historic preservation tax credit,
allow a one-year property tax exemption for veterans service organizations and
deal with an emergency disaster relief account within the road fund.

We are taking a careful and conservative
approach as we continue to navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. The state
has received many one-time dollars from the federal government through the
CARES act and the most recent federal stimulus package. Due to these federal
funds boosting our society’s various sectors, the economic outlook and state
revenue may be artificially inflated. There is no sure way of knowing what
state revenues or the economy will look like once there is no stimulus money to
help prop things up. It would be financially irresponsible for the state to use
one-time dollars to put Kentucky taxpayers on the hook for recurring expenses
in future years when we will not lean on federal funds.

An essential aspect of the budget is it
maintains legislative authority on the allocation of funds, as required by the
Constitution of Kentucky. The bill stipulates that the General Assembly must
authorize the use of these monies. $37 million in federal dollars will go
towards grants to detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 infections in
congregate and vulnerable populations. Additionally, $10 million in state
dollars will go to the School Facilities Construction Commission for schools
recently damaged by flooding.

A critical element in the economic growth
of our state is access to reliable internet services for Kentuckians. Reliable
broadband can be the difference in companies determining to locate into our
communities. With the reliance on virtual learning our students have had this
past year; it is evident how lack of reliable internet access only exacerbates
Kentucky students’ struggles. While COVID-19 forced us to rely on more virtual
services, we have also seen growth in telehealth services. Securing reliable
internet access to areas currently without it can help our economy, education
and even improve health outcomes.

With this in mind, the legislature passed House Bill (HB) 320, allocating $250
million of federal money to expand access to broadband connectivity. However,
the bills stipulate that no more than $50 million can be spent before April of
next year to make sure efforts are deliberate, effective and will go to the
areas that need it most. This initial $50 million will get the ball rolling.
Legislators will return next January to provide ample opportunity to assess the
efforts made between now and then to determine the best path forward. The
funding will be targeted to utilize existing infrastructure and the experienced
workforce through electric co-ops. In reality, the allocated funds will equate
to $500 million because the $250 million will be used as matching funds for the

Other bills passed in both the House and
Senate include:

Bill 95

aims to help Kentuckians struggling with diabetes by capping the cost of
out-of-pocket insulin at $30 for a 30 day supply. It applies to
state-regulated, comprehensive, private health insurance plans and the Kentucky
employee health plan. It does not apply to Medicare, Medicaid, or self-funded
health plans.

For too long, the high cost of insulin has
caused patients to ration their supply, resulting in a loss of life. Others
have had to make desperate financial decisions to maintain their access to
their insulin. Kentucky ranks 8th in the nation in diabetes prevalence and is
the 5th highest state in diabetes-related deaths. Between 2000 and 2018, the
percentage of Kentuckians diagnosed with diabetes doubled. Diabetes can be
associated with heart failure, stroke, blindness, and more.

Bill (SB) 8

provides for opting out of mandatory vaccinations for people with religious or
conscientiously held beliefs. The bill maintains employer immunization policies
for employees of schools, universities, and health care organizations.

Bill 80

would strengthen the police decertification process in Kentucky by expanding
the number of acts considered professional wrongdoing. A second provision would
set up a system for an officer’s automatic decertification under certain
circumstances. A final provision would prevent an officer from skirting
decertification by resigning or retiring before an internal investigation is

Joint Resolution 77
extends certain COVID-19 and regulations an
additional 60 days. This joint resolution, which can carry the force of law,
will be effective only if the court ultimately rules in favor of the legislature
on pending litigation. The Governor is challenging HB 1 and SBs 1 and 2. Those
three bills, if upheld, provide the legislature a seat at the table as
life-altering executive decisions are made. It is worth noting that Kentucky is
the exception to executive authority rule during a state of emergency. The
bills being challenged by the Governor would merely bring Kentucky more in line
with other states in regards to oversight of executive authority during times
like these.

Bill 273

named the Bailey Holt-Preston Cope Victims Privacy Act, would exclude from the
open records act photographs or videos that depict a person's death, killing,
rape, sexual assault or abuse. It is named in honor of Bailey Nicole Holt and
Preston Ryan Cope, who were killed in the 2018 Marshall County High School
shooting at the age of 15.

Bill 497

would help convicts transition out of prison get jobs, health care, state IDs
and access to social services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program, or SNAP. It would also create a “certificate of employability” to help
former inmates find jobs for which they are trained.

Bill 574

is a bipartisan measure that won support among almost everyone but could not
clear the House and head to the Governor’s desk. I believe the bill will
ultimately pass and that the governor would not veto the bill. If passed, it
expands access to voting by establishing three days for early voting, including
a Saturday. This will ease access for working people not to miss time at work,
especially first responders. It will also transition Kentucky elections toward
universal paper ballots statewide to ensure there is always a paper trail
connected to each vote. It also enhances state officials’ ability to remove the
names of deceased voters from the voter rolls. Since taking office, Kentucky
Secretary of State Michael Adams has removed nearly 60,000 names from its voter
rolls. These include those who are deceased, have moved out of the state, or
have committed crimes that disqualify them from voting. Prohibition and
strengthening of penalties are included for “ballot harvesting,” which gathers
and submits completed absentee or mail-in voter ballots by third-party
individuals, volunteers, or workers, rather than submission by voters
themselves directly to ballot collection sites. Additionally, the bill makes
the online voter portal permanent for absentee ballots to maintain transparency
and for both voters and election officials.

The General Assembly will return on March 29
and March 30 for the final two days of the session and sine die adjournment.

Thank you for staying engaged in the
legislative process. I continue to be proud and humbled to represent the 17th
Senate District.

you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public
policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me [email protected]. You can also review the legislature’s work online at www.legislature.ky.gov.

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