SENATE WEEK IN REVIEW: By Senator Robin L. Webb

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FRANKFORT — Governor Andy Beshear confirmed the first case of the infectious novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Kentucky late last week. Since then, he and cabinet officials have done an excellent job of supplying information to the legislature and updating citizens on the unfolding situation.

Everyone should keep an ear to the ground for further developments and follow advice from state public health agencies on the best practices to avoid transmission. As Kentucky officials work to minimize the spread of the virus, the legislature may need to budget more funds to help combat it. We will know more after hearing recommendations from the Governor’s cabinet. For the latest information on the coronavirus in Kentucky, visit www.kycovid19.ky.gov.

In a sign that this 60-day session is heading into the homestretch, the Republican-controlled House finalized its two-year spending plan late last week. The basic budget document, House Bill 352, passed with bipartisan support, 86-10. It now has moved to the Senate for our review. The $23.4 billion proposal provides a one percent pay increase each year for teachers and public workers for the next two years, adds $1 billion to teacher retirement, funds new school safety measures, and includes a raise of five percent for social workers.  

There are good things in the House spending plan, but the exclusion of many items should be cause for concern. HB 352 earned bipartisan support, but there are still questions regarding the lack of revenue-raising measures as well as absent items that were in the administration’s initial proposal. For example, the governor included 350 new social workers in his budget, but only 100 were approved in HB 352. This is especially worrisome because Kentucky has one of the nation’s worst child welfare records. Sadly, we are ranked number one among the states for child abuse and neglect. There are other omissions in the House plan for funding of entities and programs that we support restoring in the Senate budget.

The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee will now consider the budget bill and propose changes based on our chamber’s priorities. After that, the plan likely will be sent to a conference committee where leaders from both the Senate and House will hash out their differences and develop a document both chambers can accept.

The Senate intends to pass a budget before April 1, so that the legislature can override any vetoes issued by the governor. Although the budget will be the focal point in the latter portion of this session, the Senate will continue approving numerous other bills that affect Kentuckians around the Commonwealth.

Concerns of the COVID-19 brought no session on Friday, March 13, or Monday, March 16, with the session set to resume on Tuesday, March 17. The situation is fluid and ever changing as we try to navigate our duty of a balanced budget prior to the April 15 deadline, while minding the protection of our members, staff and public.

One measure passed this week, Senate Bill (SB) 174 allows national board certification to qualify a teacher for Rank II status, passed unanimously in the Senate today. Under current statute, initial certification for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards can only be utilized to achieve Rank I status. This measure allows for Rank II with the goal to incentivize and inspire teachers to obtain national board certification earlier in their careers. The bill passed unanimously.

Another bill that passed the Senate this week regulates plaintiffs’ lawyers’ advertisements that target consumers of prescription drugs and medical devices. SB 178 requires advertisers to warn viewers that it is dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting a doctor. I believe this legislation is unnecessary for several reasons. Some of the attorneys who do this type of plaintiff work are performing a public service by advertising, and the Kentucky Bar Association already has regulatory authority to place penalties on lawyers who falsely advertise. The bill passed 21-13.

Additional less-publicized legislation that passed in the Senate this week includes:

SB 106 is a proposed constitutional amendment that repeals an outdated portion of the Constitution of Kentucky, which states that any laws in effect in Virginia before June 1792 are in effect in Kentucky. The bill relates to the period when Kentucky broke from Virginia to become the 15th state. If it receives the required two-thirds majority in the House, it would still need to be ratified by voters in the fall. The legislation passed 32-2.

HB 153 establishes the Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The measure provides that the training program identify and assist individuals who may have or are developing a mental health disorder, a substance use disorder. I believe this is a good bill that will help Kentuckians that may be experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. It passed unanimously.

HB 59 designates the third week of September, as “Farmer Suicide Prevention Day.” It passed the Senate unanimously.

HB 150 provides that a statement or restatement of the law in any legal treatise, or other explanatory text does not constitute the law or policy in Kentucky. It prohibits a Kentucky court from treating the text as controlling authority, however a court may use it as an informative or persuasive source. The bill passed 28-6.

HB 256 specifies that a felony offense outside Kentucky that leads to the conception and delivery of a child eliminates custody and visitation rights for the offender. The measure passed unanimously.

Senate bills that passed in the Senate this week will now go to the House for further consideration. House bills approved by the Senate without change will be sent to the Governor, at which point he can veto or sign the legislation into law. House bills with Senate changes must go back to the House for concurrence.

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/. As we begin budget discussions in the Senate there will be many new issues arising in Frankfort as we are now on the backend of this 60-day session I will always listen to your viewpoints. You have a big say in the laws affecting you. You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations in the Senate and other actions in the General Assembly throughout the remainder of the regular session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website at https://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx.

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.

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