FRANKFORT — It has been a somewhat cool January, but things are beginning to heat up in Frankfort. The Kentucky General Assembly resumed its duties as members wrapped up week four of the 2020 Regular Session, bringing the first month of the New Year to a close.Our northeast Kentucky region continues to struggle with the realization that Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital will soon be closing. Be assured that there are discussions ongoing between all levels of government and the private sector regarding the future of health care. The national climate is challenging for rural health providers and we appreciate our other facilities such as King’s Daughter’s Hospital, and Kristie Whitlach, stepping up efforts to fill voids in the present and to come.
Good news in Ashland! The city has been awarded $6.8 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds, which will be used to build a convention center and parking garage on Winchester Avenue. During my tenure in the House, I worked with House leaders to craft TIF legislation, and presented the bill on the floor, for anticipated urban projects such as the YUM Center, and others. I worked with a vision that someday my more rural region would benefit from the program, and that day has come. I am proud to have been a part of this project.
Boyd County was the beneficiary of a $4.8 million dollar Abandon Mine Lands appropriation to improve infrastructure for the Rush Off Road area. The federal and state cooperative program is to enhance economic development.
Friday, I met with Congressman Hal Rogers and his support for the continuation of this program, and many others will continue. Congressman Massie was also in Frankfort with many of our constituents for the Second Amendment Rally on the Capitol grounds. It was great to see so many friends from our region and across the state there.
The General Assembly’s only constitutional requirement is to approve a two-year spending plan for the state. Now, it’s time to get fiscal! On Tuesday, I was honored to escort the Governor to the podium of the much-anticipated Budget Address. The optimistic, bipartisan tone of the speech was intended to reach as many members in the General Assembly as possible. In my opinion, this is a winner of a budget and one that is certainly reflective of human values. The 24-month budgetary strategy submitted by the Governor raises much-needed revenue, prioritizes education, fully funds pension obligations, and properly appropriates dollars to vital services that countless Kentuckians rely on.
Included in the spending proposal are increases for preschool-to-grade-12 education, higher education, social work, and much-needed raises for our teachers and state employees. By investing in our young people we are investing in our future, and that is cause for rejoicing. Financing education not only puts us in a good position for the next biennium but for budgets hereafter. After 14 consecutive years of cuts, the plan offered by the Governor changes the trajectory of our state. This spending blueprint is lengthy, full of numbers, and will require time for members to fully digest. Three of those tax bills have Republican sponsors, and have the governor’s support.
The Governor’s budget address is the first step in a multi-faceted process, and now that the wheels are in motion, legislators will prepare for the next move forward. The House, the chamber from which the budget plan originates, now begins writing its plan. It may include some of the Governor’s suggestions, but will rely heavily on the Republican-controlled legislature’s willingness to work across the aisle. Once the House budget is approved, it will be sent to the Senate to accept or present a budget of our own. Most likely, we will end up in a conference committee, comprised of House and Senate members working toward compromises that will address the concerns of both chambers. That budget will then go to the Governor, who can sign it or apply vetoes.
As we digest the governor’s budget plan, we remain busy working on legislation that is continuing to make its way through the process. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard some interesting bills, followed by rigorous discussion on legislation affecting rights, liability, and fiscal impacts. Many of these measures will soon land on the Senate floor for a vote. I will keep you updated on these measures as they progress.
Additional legislation passed in the Senate this week that will now be considered in the House includes:
SB 6 provides that compensation earned in another state-administered retirement system cannot be used to calculate benefits in the Legislators’ Retirement Plan after July 1, 2020. SB 6 passed 35-0.
SB 8 mandates that every School Resource Officer in Kentucky carry a firearm. Other measures in the legislation specify which school facilities are required to have SROs, who produces an active shooter training video, and when classroom doors can be left unlocked. SB 8 passed by a vote of 34-1.
SB 9 prohibits a person from denying or depriving a born-alive infant of medically appropriate and reasonable medical care. The bill passed 32-0.
SB 64 requires the Finance and Administration Cabinet to reimburse the Attorney General, a Commonwealth’s attorney, or a county attorney for fees or judgments after being sued for an act or omission in the course of duty. The measure passed unanimously.
SB 74 eliminates the requirement that a fatality or serious physical injury must occur before a judge may issue an order requiring a person charged with a DUI to submit to blood or urine tests. The legislation passed 31-4.
SB 94 authorizes the sale of motor fuels that contain up to 15% ethanol (E-15) rather than the current limit of 10% ethanol (E-10). It passed unanimously
HB 236 conforms Kentucky laws on hemp to federal law. The bill passed 37-0 with a floor amendment and will return to the House for final review.
HB 186 excludes direct sellers from Wage and Hour and Workers’ Compensation statutes and ‘covered employment’ in Unemployment Insurance statutes. The legislation passed 25-7. It will now go to the Governor’s desk for final approval.
As we progress through the session, we will vet and vote on hundreds of bills. However, an increasingly greater amount of our time will now be spent on budgetary issues. You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations, and other legislative actions throughout the session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website at www.legislature.ky.gov.
As always, you can stay in contact throughout the 2020 Regular Session 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.