FRANKFORT — A shockwave shuddered the Capitol when the General Assembly learned that a staff member of the Legislative Research Commission recently tested positive for COVID-19. Fortunately, the individual had been in quarantine since mid-March, following protocols set by the LRC director to protect the health and safety of legislators and staff. The situation produced a rush to quickly complete the constitutional duties of the legislature and send members home as soon as possible.
The LRC staff consistently provides us with vital information on various bills and policies. Typically, the latter part of the session is the most hectic time for us and them. However, the predicament we find ourselves in has thrown a wrench into the entire process. Their work is crucial to the General Assembly, and we owe them a great deal of gratitude for their commitment and dedication to the commonwealth. My prayers for a full recovery are with this staffer and the family during this most difficult time.
The Senate reconvened on Wednesday to take up the budget, revenue, and road plan legislation. During these times of uncertainty, it is hard to predict the financial burden this public health crisis will place on the economy, both nationally and in our state. Therefore, the Free Conference Committee agreed to proceed with an annual, one-year budget, rather than the conventional biennial, two-year plan. I think this is a wise move because it is challenging to forecast the specific future needs of citizens and businesses at this time. This course of action allows us to review the situation and appropriate accordingly in January 2021 when we have more clarity on the impacts of this global pandemic.
The one-year budget found in House Bill (HB) 352, as amended by the General Assembly, is based on “pessimistic” revenue estimates that were handed down by the economic forecasters last December. A lot has happened since then and there is a stark difference between those original numbers and those on which the House and Senate based their current planning. Although the now-approved plan meets the state’s obligation to the state Teachers’ Retirement System insurance fund and would allow the system to fully meet its actuarially required pension contribution, it does not include the anticipated pay raises for teachers or state employees that lawmakers had hoped to provide earlier.
The budget will be a continuance of funding levels from the previous two years. Lawmakers had to do away with a planned increase in guaranteed per-pupil base funding for K-12 education known as Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding program. The SEEK level will remain at $4,000 per pupil under the approved plan. It also invests in mental health professionals per the school safety requirements found in the school safety bill passed earlier this year, while also meeting the state’s commitment under last year’s SB 1. It will authorize $47.5 million in bonds to assist with the construction of four schools listed as priorities by the state.
Other highlights in HB 352 as amended include appropriations of $2.5 million for pediatric research; $17 million received from the Volkswagen emissions settlement, devoted to new school buses and transit buses; reinstatement of a two-percent stop loss in the performance-based funding formula for state post-secondary institutions; and, $1.6 million in fiscal year 2021 to support medical services at county jails.
Also passed by the General Assembly before the veto break was funding for the judicial and legislative branches and the state’s highway plan, or “Road Plan,” which would still extend over two years. Funding for the Road Plan was included in the state Transportation Cabinet budget, which also was approved. Highway projects slated as priorities in future years, through the fiscal year 2026, were included in a joint resolution also approved. All legislation passed will now go to the governor’s desk.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most significant dilemmas of our time. Although these numbers aren’t ideal, I was pleased to see us come together as Team Kentucky and unanimously approve the budget and transportation proposals. Outside the revenue bill, which raised questions among some members, the legislature overwhelmingly voted to approve the measures. For now, members expect to return on Monday, April 13, to review the governor’s vetoes.
During these trying times, I wish faith and good fortune for you and your family. We are all in this together, and we will persevere. My heart goes out to those we have lost, and I pray for their families’ strength moving forward. Even though we may not be as close physically as we would like to be, we must let our loved ones know just how much they mean to us. This is a time during which we should set aside the petty differences that divide us and come together in what unites us. Whether it be in times of hardship or prosperity, I am proud to serve and be a voice for you in Frankfort.
I encourage you to stay updated on the coronavirus situation in Kentucky. You can stay up-to-date and informed on any new developments by watching Gov. Beshear’s daily press conferences on his Facebook Page at http://www.Facebook.com/GovAndyBeshear/. You can stay up-to-date on the budget in the General Assembly by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website athttps://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx. For other bills that have passed throughout the 2020 session, visit https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/record.html.
As always, you can stay in contact in the following ways:
• To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the Kentucky Relay Service at 711.
• You can write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to Capitol Annex, 702 Capital Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601-3448.
• You can also email me directly at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV.