FRANKFORT — Members returned to Frankfort on Tuesday after not convening Monday in observance of Presidents’ Day. As we press through the 2020 Regular Session and await the House to finalize its budget, we feel the pressure of the pace beginning to intensify in Frankfort. Only two bills have been passed in both chambers and signed into law, while another two have passed in the House and Senate and sent to Governor Beshear for further consideration.
The Senate passed another “priority” measure proposed by the Majority in Senate Bill 4 this week. The legislation strips the Governor’s power to appoint the Transportation Cabinet Secretary and grants appointment approval to the Senate.
SB 4 establishes a nine-member Transportation Board that is appointed by the Governor. The board would consist of citizens recommended by the Kentucky Association of Counties, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and the Kentucky League of Cities. They would then be responsible for submitting a list of candidates from which the governor would have to choose¾three from each organization.
The governor’s appointees would then need to be confirmed by the Senate. The board would develop the state’s six-year road plan. SB 4 codifies a process already in place using traffic data and other objective measurements to prioritize road projects being considered for funding in the state highway plan.
Proponents of the legislation say the move will detach politics from the appointment process. In reality, all it does is transfer the political aspect from the governor’s office to the Senate. We witnessed measures that limited the duties of the Attorney General when Andy Beshear held that post, and we are seeing the same now as he serves as Governor. I see this bill as politically motivated, and ill-advised as it interjects non-elected, non-accountable entities into the process. It’s another attempt to chisel away at executive authority. SB 4 passed and I voted no.
In the State and Local Government Committee, members heard a bill that would let voters decide if the Governor’s power to grant pardons should be limited. SB 58, a constitutional amendment, would prevent the Governor from granting pardons or commuting sentences during the time period beginning 30 days prior to the general election when the Governor is elected and ending when the governor is inaugurated.
SB 4 and SB 58 are both in retaliation against Governor Bevin’s actions in the previous administration. Bevin was an unconventional governor and made decisions that often left him at odds with members of his own party. However, his uncustomary approach should not forever cause us to eliminate the power that has been vested in our executive for over 200 years. I agree that the pardons should be examined more closely, but I believe curtailing these powers based on the actions of the previous Governor is unwarranted.
Also worth noting, in a historic vote, the House passed legislation that would allow medicinal marijuana in Kentucky. House Bill 136 would establish restrictions on who can obtain medical marijuana, and determine where it can be used. It will now go to a Senate committee for further consideration.
Other measures faced by the Senate this week includes:
SB 50 eliminates the role of pharmacy benefit (PBMs) who handle Medicaid prescription drug claims. Currently, claims go to PBMs, who serve as a middleman between pharmacies and managed care organizations (MCOs). Under SB 50, the state will contract with one PBM to reimburse pharmacies. The one PBM will coordinate with the MCOs and the MCOs are required to work with the PBM and pharmacist. The legislation will help a lot patients and pharmacies. The bipartisan measure passed unanimously.
SB 134 establishes the Optometry Scholarship Program fund and defines scholarship eligibility requirements for aspiring optometrists. This legislation is intended to expand optometry opportunities in Kentucky and lower the financial burden on students. A third of the scholarship funds is guaranteed to the optometry program at the University of Pikeville. SB 134 passed with unanimous consent.
SB 111 requires a coroner to deliver the remains of first responders who are killed in the line of duty to the family in a casket covered in an American flag. This is the least we can do to show our appreciation for the lives and service of our law enforcement officers and emergency service personnel who are killed in the line of duty. The legislation passed with no dissent.
SB 91 requires the use of a smoke evacuation system during any surgical procedure that is likely to produce surgical smoke. Surgical smoke contains toxins that are equivalent to smoking 27-30 unfiltered cigarettes a day. The measure passed unanimously.
SB 103 reduces the minimum acreage requirement to qualify as a “farmstead” from ten acres to five acres for the purposes of exemption from the requirements of the Kentucky State Plumbing Code. The bill passed overwhelmingly.
Bills passed in the Senate this week will now go to the House for further consideration. The halfway point of the session has come and gone, and we will likely see an exponential increase in our workload over the next few weeks. 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.