SENATE WEEK IN REVIEW: By Senator Robin L. Webb

0
1

robin2Bwebb2B1.png1 1.jpg2Bthis2Bone 1

FRANKFORT — The General Assembly continued legislative work despite calls for closures across the state due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As of this week, schools, local businesses, and public-facing workplaces that cannot comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing temporarily ceased all in-person operations as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

After much deliberation and discussion, the Kentucky General Assembly decided to do the same and put a pause on the 2020 Regular Session. We will now postpone our legislative work until March 26. With the Capitol building and Annex closed to the public, this is the most sensible option.

These are turbulent times. However, as anxiety-ridden and stressful as this situation is, I assure you we will make it through together if we follow the necessary protocols. The Governor and Cabinet officials are making some tough choices, but these have been the right decisions for the health of our state and our people. They have done an excellent job supplying information and updating citizens on the situation. For the latest information on coronavirus in Kentucky, I advise you to visit www.kycovid19.ky.gov.

The Senate put forth and passed its two-year budget plan off the floor this week. Its changes to House Bill 352 differ greatly from the plan offered by the House and by the Governor. One significant change is the withholding of funds for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) if cuts are not made to new teachers’ benefits. The proposal would shift the $1.1 billion of KTRS actuarially required contribution (ARC) funds to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System non-hazardous (KERS-NH) over the next biennium if “structural changes” are not made by August 1 of each year. It also provides no funding for retired teacher health insurance for those under the age of 65. Additionally, it would considerably curtail pension funding for quasi-governmental agencies like health departments, regional universities, and mental health centers. 

These numbers may look much different than what the Consensus Forecasting Group originally projected in January. Economic uncertainty looms due to the unforeseen global pandemic that has shaken the markets. I voted no on the Senate version because a pension is a promise and we must honor that. I also believe this budget compromises entities that provide vital services to our citizens, such as our health departments and mental health centers. In a time like this, I find cuts to these entities egregious, and a move that could endanger the health and welfare of many Kentuckians.

The good news is that this is not the final budget. Now, the amended budget bills have been referred to a conference committee comprised of legislative members of both chambers. The conferees will work throughout the postponement to craft a plan both chambers can agree to before we recess for the Governor’s possible vetoesOnce differences are ironed out, the budget will come back to the full Senate for another vote.

I remain hopeful and will continue to fight to protect public education, move our public employee and teacher retirement plans in the right direction, while protecting our most vulnerable citizens, especially during this difficult time. Outside of the budget, there were numerous notable bills that passed in the Senate this week.

   

Additional bills passed in the Senate this week include:

SB 177 allows school districts to use as many nontraditional instructional (NTI) days as necessary during closures brought about by the COVID19 public health crisis. It would also let districts submit a plan to the Kentucky education commissioner who can then waive or extend days if needed. The legislation will provide relief to schools following the pandemic. The measure passed 30-0

Senate Bill (SB) 237 would promote research into, and prevention of, sudden infant death syndrome, known as SIDS, and other still-mysterious causes of death. SB 237 would allow a parent or guardian to request a tissue sample to be collected during an autopsy of a child who has succumbed to SIDS. The hope is that the measure will lead to more answers surrounding the syndrome and its causes. It passed unanimously.

HB 453 makes the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet the sole issuance entity for licenses and personal identification cards. It also eliminates the requirement that they must be issued in the county of residence. It will take effect beginning in 2022. The proposal passed Senate 21-10.

SB 189 allows a court to consider financial resources of married and unmarried paternity actions and may order a party to pay a portion of the other’s attorney’s fees and costs. It levels the playing field in paternity cases. It passed Senate 29-1.

HB 99 appropriates a $35 million loan to the University of Louisville to acquire the KentuckyOne Health and Jewish Hospital facilities in Louisville. These facilities may be pivotal to assisting Kentuckians in the coming weeks. The legislation passed 23-9.

HB 195 eliminates public notice advertising in local newspapers that serve a population over 80,000 and allows government agencies across the state to post legally required notices on their individual websites. Such advertising long has allowed citizens to monitor the actions and budgets of local agencies that serve them. This bill undermines government transparency by shifting such publication to the internet and permitting local officials not to publish such material in independent community newspapers. It narrowly passed 20-12. 

For other bills passed this week visit https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/record.html.

For the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency that has barred visitors at the State Capitol and Capitol Annex, video feeds of all General Assembly meetings will be available for online viewing. Kentucky Educational Television (KET) presently livestreams Senate and House proceedings as well as many committee sessions. During the time that visitor access to the Capitol and Capitol Annex is restricted, KET will expand its daily online fare with even more committee coverage. The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will livestream any committee meetings that aren’t covered by KET on YouTube.

To see the daily meeting list with links to livestreams:

LRC: https://legislature.ky.gov/Public%20Services/PIO/Pages/Live-Streams.aspx.

KET: ket.org/legislature

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. Beshears daily press conferences on his Facebook Page at http://www.Facebook.com/GovAndyBeshear/. As we begin budget discussions you can stay up-to-date on the negotiations 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 in the following ways:

        To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assemblys 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 lawmakers name to Capitol Annex, 702 Capital Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601-3448.

        You can also email me directly at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here