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Higdon: Only 4 days remain in 2021 session of Kentucky General Assembly

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Friday, March 12, 2021 — Only four legislative days remain of the 2021 30-day session of the Kentucky General Assembly as of Friday, March 12. With the end in sight, fellow lawmakers and I are wrapping up legislative efforts by passing legislation in the closing days.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

The General Assembly needs to pass most bills by Tuesday, March 16, so that enough time is left to consider any veto overrides that may be necessary. The legislature will recess on Tuesday, March 16 and will reconvene on Monday, March 29. During the recess period, the Governor will have time to consider bills that have arrived on his desk. He may sign them into law, allow them to become law without his signature, or veto them. Two days of the session will remain upon lawmakers’ return at the end of the month, as we are required to conclude the session before April 1 per the Constitution of Kentucky. Those two days will provide the legislature time to pass additional legislation and override potential vetoes.

The Governor’s most recent vetoes were on Senate Bill (SB) 3 and House Bill (HB) 6. The House and Senate overrode those vetoes last Thursday. They become enacted law upon their filing with the Secretary of State’s Office.

SB 3 moves the Office of Agricultural Policy under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner’s Office. This is a bill that has been introduced a couple of times in the past and under both a Republican and Democratic governor. In the Governor’s veto message, he argues that the bill is unconstitutional because it gives the Agriculture Commissioner authority to appoint members of the Agriculture Development Board and the Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corporation. This argument becomes a moot point because SB 3 statutorily detaches the boards from the Governor’s Office and places them under the Agriculture Commissioner’s Office. The legislature has the sole authority under the Constitution of Kentucky to reform law. Moving these critical boards under the Commissioner of Agriculture’s authority streamlines our efforts to strengthen Kentucky agriculture and help our farmers. The office’s official role is to promote the interest of agriculture and horticulture, agricultural revenues, and the protection of Kentucky’s livestock industries.

HB 6 gives teeth to an already existing legislative committee that would become the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee with the passing of this bill. It codifies subpoena powers, provides the committee with the ability to maintain the confidentiality of investigative documents.

Other bills clearing the House and Senate this week and that are now with the Governor for consideration can be found by visiting legislature.ky.gov. Several of the many that made final passage that I would like to highlight are:

HB 140 seeks to build on telehealth successes that we have used most notably over the past year. It requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to establish standards and for managed care organizations to study telehealth’s impact on the state’s health care delivery system.

HB 207 prohibits a local government entity from taking any legislative or executive action that impairs a consumer’s ability to use certain utility services. The bill does not alter the role or responsibilities of the Public Service Commission.

HB 229 adds livestock to what the statute defines as property so that any harm done to livestock can be criminally charged in relation to criminal damage to property offenses.

HB 278 provides needed relief to our small business owners who received small business paycheck protection loans from the federal government so that they could keep their workers employed and cover losses caused by COVID-19. The bill will make sure those loans are not counted as income in regard to their state taxes.

HB 518 would change the makeup of the Kentucky State Fair Board and clarify how it operates. Not only does the fair board operate the Kentucky Exposition Center where the state fair is held, but it also operates the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville. The two properties have an annual $500 million economic impact and generate $40 million in taxes.

I have outlined various Senate Bills in past legislative updates. Some of those have made final passage as well, such as priority bill SB 10, which establishes a commission to study and determine ways to address racial inequalities. Some of the other Senate bills—details on which you can find in my past legislative updates or at legislature.ky.gov—included bills related to Kentucky’s spirits and brewing industry. Those were SBs 15, 67, and 68. Another bill was SB 11, which provides rental owners with some ability to seek and prevent intentional property damage.

Significant steps were taken regarding the one-year State Budget this past week. Last year was the first year in our state’s history that a one-year budget had to be passed. We are required to do the same this year. Biennial budgets, or two-year budgets, are traditionally enacted in even-numbered years, the 60-day regular sessions of the General Assembly. As the budget was being crafted last year amid the pandemic’s onset, legislators did not know what the economic outlook, and therefore, what state revenues would be. Out of an abundance of caution, it was determined to pass only a one-year budget, then return to the 30-day session this year to pass another. This year’s budget will essentially be a continuing budget and will look similar to last year’s budget.

The 2021 Budget Conference Committee met to publicly review and discuss decisions regarding the Governor, House, and Senate budget proposals. The committee consists of House and Senate Majority and Minority Leadership and Appropriation and Revenue Committee Chairs of both chambers. The Governor’s State Budget Director, John Hicks, visited with the Budget Conference Committee. He provided some insight into “The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” which Congress recently passed.

It appears that $5 billion in various forms of aid will be provided to individuals here in Kentucky. The state government will receive approximately $2.4 billion and local governments $1.6 billion, respectively. While this is a significant investment for our state, we must remember these are one-time dollars. Once utilized, they are gone. The General Assembly will take a responsible and conservative approach to using state revenues as we continue to work through a time of uncertainty. You can find the archived video of Budget Conference Committee meetings by visiting ket.org/legislature/archives.

I know many still suffer from the impact COVID-19 has had on our physical and emotional health and our economy. A recent report from the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet shows that our state unemployment rate increased to 6.6 percent during the pandemic and economic shutdowns. According to the Director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the report’s numbers likely do not reflect the true magnitude of the impact the last year has had on the jobless rate and unemployment. Between March and April of last year, unemployment spiked to almost 17 percent. We are still feeling the effects of the influx of claims as the Labor Cabinet continues to struggle to process them.

Constituents are still sharing frustrations with legislators, indicating that they cannot connect with anyone at the Labor Cabinet to assist with their claims. The bottom line is that members of the legislative branch, including staff, do not have access to the unemployment system to process a claim or even view its status. Ultimately, authorized staff within the Kentucky Labor Cabinet will have to get through the backlog of claims that still exists. I am hopeful that with a decline in COVID-19 cases, regional unemployment offices will reopen soon for in-person appointments. Please take a moment to visit the Kentucky Career Center website at kcc.ky.gov to view phone appointment availability. Appointments may be scheduled at telegov.egov.com/LC_UI.

If you are among those who qualify for the most recent stimulus checks, you can check the status of yours by visiting irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment and clicking on the blue “Get My Payment” tab in the middle of the page. It is essential that you know the IRS will use the most recent tax returns to determine who is eligible for the new stimulus, so if you have been unemployed, had a child, or lost income in 2020, you should file your taxes as soon as possible. Based on early information, it appears that citizens who have a banking account on file with the IRS will receive their payments first. Due to an IRS error, some stimulus payments from earlier this year were first sent to people’s tax preparation companies they used to file their taxes. This caused a lot of confusion, and the tax preparation companies such as H&R Block and TurboTax had to process millions of checks. Hopefully, this will not occur again, but as you watch for your payment, please keep this in mind.

I continue to keep those impacted by recent weather events in my prayers, especially folks in Liberty, Casey County, and New Haven. It has been inspiring to see communities and the whole state come together to support those in need. Please remain patient as assessments of damage are done by the state to determine our unmet needs. Once preliminary damage assessments are conducted by federal, state, and local officials, the Governor can submit a declaration request to the regional FEMA administrator.

If you have any questions or comments about these or any other public policy issues, please call my office toll-free at 502-564-8100 or the legislative message line1-800-372-7181. You can also reach me at (270) 692-6945 (home) or email Jimmy.Higdon@LRC.ky.gov.

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