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Higdon: Court ruling creates opportunity for governor, legislature to cooperate

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021 — Kentucky has remained in a perpetual state of emergency since March 6, 2020. From the onset of the global pandemic, the voice of the representative branch of state government, the Kentucky General Assembly, has not always been heard concerning the state response to COVID-19. Following recent rulings by United States Senior Judge William O. Bertelsman and the Supreme Court of Kentucky, that has changed.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

On Saturday, August 21, the Supreme Court of Kentucky made a unanimous ruling affirming legislation passed during the recent session of the Kentucky General Assembly. House Bill 1, House Joint Resolution 77, Senate Bill 1, and Senate Bill 2 provide legislative oversight of executive emergency powers. The legislation reformed Kentucky law (KRS 39A), which was an outlier concerning the broad scope of powers it allowed the executive branch to exercise during a declared state of emergency. Only nine other states currently have no relevant provisions that provide legislative oversight of emergency executive powers. A majority of states have proven capable of responding to and mitigating COVID-19 through cooperation and deliberation involving more than just the executive branch of state government.

With the executive branch’s limited engagement with the Kentucky legislature throughout this pandemic, we have remained steadfast and prepared to assist. In April 2020, within weeks of the declared state of emergency, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted legislation that largely supported emergency measures put in place by the Governor. As the Kentucky Unemployment Insurance (UI) system became overburdened following the state’s shutdown, the legislature offered 100 employees to assist. In time, the legislature enacted laws to provide protections for Kentuckians who mistakenly received benefits that they would be required to pay back. We also provided millions of dollars to upgrade the antiquated computer system. These are only a few examples of lawmakers’ efforts.

On the topic of unemployment insurance, I have worked to help those whose unemployment funds were not paid. With my and others’ best efforts, there are still numerous people who have not received their benefits. If this is the case for you, a loved one, or a co-worker, please email me at jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov.

Countless phone calls, letters, and legislative updates since the pandemic began have expressed lawmakers’ frustrations, who want to be engaged and share their unique perspectives from the districts they represent. Following court rulings, the Franklin Circuit Court’s injunction on the legislation has been ordered to be lifted. At that time, the legislature will assume its necessary role in ongoing COVID-19 discussions. As of the submission of this column, the Franklin Circuit Court has not officially lifted the injunction. The judge has instead given ten days for the respective parties of the case to negotiate and respond. To be clear, the state of emergency remains in effect. Lawmakers are hopeful for a reset in relations with the executive branch and to be engaged in a manner that will ensure the holistic good of the Commonwealth. That is what we have requested all along.

With COVID-19 cases rising again, I encourage you to take reasonable measures to stay safe. While I have personally chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, I understand there is hesitancy, and genuine concerns deserve respect. If you are in doubt or have concerns, do not hesitate to consult with your doctor about if it may be right for you. If you are at higher risk of COVID-19, please take the precautions you deem necessary to stay safe. It is worth remembering that over 90 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in Kentucky are ages 60 or over. Forty-five percent are over the age of 80. The delta variant seems to be more transmissible than the original variant and makes younger people sicker than before.

The Kentucky General Assembly stands ready to be a partner to combat COVID-19 and hopes that our concerns and those of our constituents are welcomed as a part of the conversation moving forward.

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