Senate Week in Review 03-31-20


 

Senator Robin L. Webb

 

   The coronavirus outbreak across the state and country has taken its toll on all aspects of everyday life. I want to remind everyone of the seriousness of the situation and emphasize the importance of following guidelines set by national and state public health officials. We are ALL in this together, and we will persevere.

   I hope you will join me in remembering those who have been affected and those who we have lost due to complications of the virus. For the most updated information on the COVID-19 situation in Kentucky, you can watch Gov. Andy Beshear's daily press conferences at 5 p.m. or visit kycovid19.ky.gov.

   As the global pandemic continues to dominate the headlines, the Kentucky General Assembly remains steadfast, working to finalize its two-year spending plan. This week the budget conference committee met to reconcile Senate and House differences, to offer a proposal that all sides can accept.

   The outlook for the financial future of the state is much bleaker than originally predicted by the Consensus Forecasting Group, which is composed of nonpartisan economists who set the future revenue projections. The conference committee chairman says the group’s proposal will be a "pessimistic budget," based on an estimated $300 million in revenue deficit over the next biennium, including $115 million less than was originally forecasted in fiscal year (FY) 2021 and $175 million less in FY 2022.

   We are dealing with a budget under unique and unprecedented circumstances. Based on the economic ramifications stemming from the crisis, one thing is certain: we must take the necessary steps in preparation for the economic fallout of this global pandemic. That means really difficult choices. For example, the committee has agreed that the budget will not include anticipated raises for teachers and state employees.

   Other proposed items that were omitted include: increases in the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) program, increased higher education funding, and increases in performance-based funding for public campuses. These items will remain at current-year levels until there is more certainty of the state's financial future. However drastic the deficits may be, we must ensure that the health, safety, and education of Kentuckians are top priorities.

   Despite calls for solely taking up the budget and measures relating to the coronavirus, numerous proposals continued to make their way through the process.

   Bills that received Senate approval this week include:

   Senate Bill 150, labeled the COVID-19 relief bill, is a bipartisan bill that assists Kentuckians affected by the pandemic. Among many provisions in the proposal, it broadens the scope of health care, makes unemployment insurance more accessible, and extends the state tax filing deadline. In these trying times, I am glad we could come together and agree on this legislation for the benefit of all citizens and local governments across the Commonwealth. The bill passed unanimously.

   House Bill (HB) 415 allows the direct delivery and shipment of alcoholic beverages by distilleries, wineries, and breweries to consumers through a common carrier like UPS or FedEx. The package must be marked that it contains alcohol, cannot be dropped off, and the signee needs to provide photo identification that he or she is over 21 years of age. The legislation passed 21-11.

   SB 72 would make performing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) procedures on minors a felony, ban trafficking girls across state lines for FGMs and strip the medical licenses from providers convicted of the practice. The bill would, among other things, classify FGM in state statutes as a form of child abuse and provide outreach to communities and professionals likely to encounter the practice. The measure passed unanimously.

   HB 484 is a reorganization bill that establishes a County Employees Retirement System (CERS) Board of Trustees independent from the Kentucky Retirement System (KRS) Board of Trustees. The aim is to permit CERS to make their own fiduciary decisions while still maintaining one administrative infrastructure. It passed 31-1.

   So long as we are here, I will continue my legislative duties. However, with the Capitol barred to the public, I do not agree that we should be advancing legislation without input from stakeholders. You can remain informed via video feed of all the General Assembly’s meetings. Kentucky Educational Television (KET) currently livestreams Senate and House proceedings as well as many committee sessions. The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will livestream any committee meetings that are not covered by KET on YouTube.

   To see the daily meeting list with links to livestreams, visit:

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

KET: ket.org/legislature

   The Kentucky constitution requires that the biennial budget be adopted before the legislature adjourns Sine Die. We will likely revisit a finalized version in its entirety on the Senate floor when we reconvene for the next legislative day on Wednesday, April 1. Following that date, members expect to return on April 14 to consider potential vetoes by the Governor. I encourage you to stay updated on the coronavirus situation and budget discussions. You can stay up-to-date and informed throughout the remainder of the regular session by logging on to 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 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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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