FRANKFORT ⎯ The Kentucky General Assembly is now in the thick of things as only four days remain in the 2021 Regular Session. In the early part of the week, we members of the Budget Conference Committee met to hash out particulars of the 1-year spending document. On Thursday and Friday, all lawmakers returned to Frankfort for Days 25 and 26 of the session. Committee dockets have been full, with dozens of bills that continue to fly out the House and Senate in the waning days before we adjourn sine die.
Following the passage of the national COVID-19 relief package, I and other members of the Budget Conference Committee learned there would be approximately $2.4 billion in federal funding allocated to the state. Kentucky Budget Director John Hicks informed members that the money can be distributed to provide relief to businesses and organizations impacted by COVID-19, expand broadband, pay back pension obligations, and update water and sewer systems.
These funds are significant as we look beyond the pandemic. The money is an absolute game changer for how the ultimate spending document will look. The stimulus money received by the state can be used for serious issues we face across the Commonwealth without cutting the essential services everyday Kentuckians rely on. It also gives us the ability to help stimulate the economy without borrowing money the state will have to return later. I hope my Republican colleagues realize the real implications of the pandemic and support initiatives that prioritize Kentuckians. I presume the budget will be sent to the Senate for review sometime early next week.
During the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy meeting, members heard a bill, House Bill 272, which would end the Kentucky Public Service Commission’s (PSC) temporary halts on late fees and cutoffs for water district and water association services. The PSC instituted a halt in payments due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. House Bill 272 would end the pause and require the PSC to crackdown on late fees and cutoffs.
Luckily, HB 272 was voted down by the Committee. Right now is not the time to be hearing this legislation. Amid a public health crisis, coupled with the recent ice storms and flooding, many people, not just low-income, are struggling.
In typical Kentucky General Assembly-fashion, a slew of bills passed off the Senate floor Thursday and Friday. One piece of legislation that I am gravely concerned with is Senate Bill (SB) 211. SB 211 is intended to enhance penalties for rioting and would make it a crime to insult or taunt a police officer. It creates additional protest-related offenses including charges for flashing a light or laser pointer at a police officer and supplying rioters with supplies.
In Kentucky, there are already laws on the books to deal with riotous. The language regarding whether someone could be arrested for directing offensive or derisive words toward police officers is much too arbitrary. I also feel this legislation has constitutional issues regarding first amendment rights to free speech and the right to peacefully assemble. However, it passed the Senate by a vote of 22-11. I voted no.
Other bills passed in the Senate:
HB 312 House Bill 312 would limit the ability of people who do not live, work or conduct business in Kentucky to obtain records through the state’s open records law. These restrictions would not apply, however, to out-of-state journalists. A second section would explicitly allow open record requests to be made via email. A third would provide a standardized form for the requests but not require that it be used. Under HB 312, the time to comply with requests would also be lengthened to five days from three. There is currently a law that already allows agencies to deny requests that are unreasonably burdensome, and we impose fees on commercial requests. However, HB 312 passed 22-11. I voted no.
HB 402 increases the amount qualifying for flagrant nonsupport from $1,000 to $2,500 regarding child support. The bipartisan bill passed overwhelmingly 33-0.
HB 518 authorizes the Commissioner of Agriculture to appoint three members of the State Fair Board. Currently, the Governor appoints the seven-member board. HB 518 changes that to four, with the remaining three named by the Commissioner of Agriculture. It passed the Senate as amended 30-2.
All these bills now go to the House of Representatives.
The General Assembly also overrode the governor’s vetoes of Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 6. A total of eight vetoes have been overridden through the seventh week of the session.
SB 3 moves the organization that decides how to spend much of Kentucky’s share of the Tobacco Master Agreement settlement money to the state agriculture commissioner from the governor’s office. It passed notwithstanding the signature of the Governor by a vote of 24-5.
HB 6 changes the name of the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee to the Oversight and Investigations Committee. The goal is to make it the main investigative committee in the General Assembly. The Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto 28-3.
Since SB 3 and HB 6 each contain what’s known as an emergency clause, the bills go into effect immediately upon becoming law rather than 90 days after adjournment.
If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, I remain accessible by email at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV. You can also leave a message for me on the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. Citizens with hearing impairments can use the Kentucky Relay Service at 711.