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Legislative update: Senate preparing for 2021 session of Ky. General Assembly

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Monday, July 13, 2020 — I hope you and your family enjoyed a safe and happy Independence Day. Sadly, as soon as we took the time to recognize and celebrate our great nation and the freedom it provides us, we began to see another rise in cases of the novel Coronavirus that threaten our most vulnerable and the normalities in life we are so longing to return to.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

The General Assembly continues to hear from our constituents. We all continue to deal with the virus and the consequences of our fight against it.

One of those issues has been the record levels of unemployment claims. We learned recently during Interim committee meetings that the administration took an $865 million loan from the federal government to help shore up the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund. The state’s employers will now be responsible for paying that loan back. During that meeting, we learned the UI trust fund is expected to be depleted again by the fall, at which time another loan may be necessary. Again, that loan will be mostly be repaid by employers. For our state and businesses that were facing budget difficulties before the pandemic, this is concerning news.

Similarly, the legislature did not learn that the administration had contracted with a global accounting giant to assist with clearing out the unemployment claim backlog until it was announced during one of the governor’s briefings. Nonetheless, this was welcomed information because the unemployment crisis has been ongoing for nearly five months. There are still some claims dating back to late March that are unresolved. Seven million dollars in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES Act) money will be paid to the company, Ernst & Young. Their work began on July 1, and the contract is for four weeks. The goal is by July 13, there will be 400 workers processing claims. I hope that those currently struggling with the devastating economic impacts of COVID-19 will finally get the relief they needed weeks ago. Unemployment Insurance is a program paid for by employers to provide a safety net for those who find themselves unemployed. You may check on appointment availabilities by visiting www.kcc.ky.gov.

Since it is a topic currently on everyone’s mind, I’d like to provide you some insight into the following issue. Last Friday, the governor implemented his most recent executive order, which mandates the use of a face mask or covering in public places that pose a risk for the spread of COVID-19. These locations include retail stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, childcare facilities, barbershops/salons, nail salons, and any other indoor places where space does not allow for six feet of social distancing. Masks are required in restaurants during those times that food or beverages are not being consumed. Finally, under the order, they are required for outdoor locations if people are unable to maintain social distancing.

The order provides exceptions to the following people and situations: Children under five; people with health conditions or physical/mental disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a mask; the hearing impaired or those communicating with a person who requires being able to see the mouth to communicate; any person engaged in work that is concluded to pose a risk to workers’ safety; anyone obtaining services requiring temporary removal of the mask; for purposes of confirming identity as a matter of security; anyone giving a speech or a broadcast to an audience and who can maintain social distancing; people in a swimming pool, lake or other body of water; people engaged in an exercise in a gym so long as six or more feet can be maintained, and the gym is meeting cleaning requirements; and anyone involved in a lawful activity that law prohibits wearing a face covering.

Based on the executive order’s language, the enforcement of the order will be through local health departments. The order states that failure to follow the requirements “must result in a loss of access to a business’s services.” Hence, the true enforcers of the order have to be those at businesses themselves rather than the health department directly. To further understand enforcement of the order, it reads that failure to follow the requirements “could subject a person or entity violating the order to penalties as authorized by law.” That can be understood as non-compliant businesses are at risk of penalties through their local health departments if they do not deny access to customers violating the order.

You can find the executive order by visiting the “Executive Journal” website through the Secretary of State’s website and searching Executive Order 2020-586.

Your legislators are continuing to work for you. We have learned a lot over the first few weeks of our Interim Session. The topics include what school may look like in the fall, how businesses like childcare centers have been negatively impacted during the pandemic, steps being taken by the administration to deal with the pandemic, ways we can better address states of emergency with better deliberation and communication, and much more. In the coming weeks, I will provide you with a more in-depth analysis of our committee meeting topics and the information they generate.

I encourage you to visit www.ket.org/legislature/archives to find footage of Interim committee meetings up to this point in the Interim Session. They are packed full of information relevant to the lives of all Kentuckians. Furthermore, you can keep up with the legislature’s activities, such as bill requests that are being made, by visiting www.legislature.ky.gov.

If you are still facing struggles with unemployment claims, if you are affected by reopening requirements, or have a legislative interest, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. The legislature is unable to take action until January 2021, but I want you to know I am here and will do all I can for you. The General Assembly is utilizing the Interim Session to get to work in the 2021 Regular Session immediately. In this process, you are at the forefront of our minds. Please reach out to me if I can be of assistance at 270-692-6945. God bless each of you. Stay safe and healthy.

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