Terri Branham Clark
During an emergency, one of the most important aspects leaders need is added flexibility to do their job. Some rules that are necessary when life is normal can become hurdles when lives and livelihoods are on the line.
With that in mind, the General Assembly voted unanimously last Thursday for Senate Bill 150, which will give Gov. Andy Beshear, healthcare providers and others the flexibility they need as we the state of the emergency relevant to COVID-19 continues.
A key provision in this legislation is the expansion of the unemployment insurance program. This bill, which is limited to the time period during state of emergency, expands eligibility to include such groups as independent contractors, small business owners, substitute teachers and those who may not have lost their jobs but have seen their hours significantly reduced.
More than three million Americans have filed for unemployment in recent days, and in Kentucky, this number is approaching 50,000. If you are among this group and haven’t already applied, please visit the state’s website at https://kcc.ky.gov to learn more about changes made to handle the increased caseload. Each day of the week, for example, has been set aside to process claims based on the first letter of your last name.
For our healthcare providers, Senate Bill 150 expands telehealth options to limit the need for in-person visits, and it extends Good Samaritan protections for those providers acting in good faith to provide care. Similar protections also apply to companies that have changed their normal production to manufacture emergency items like hand sanitizer.
While legislators have sent Senate Bill 150 to Gov. Beshear for his signature, we are still working to finalize a two-year state budget.
In January, when this work began, it appeared that we were poised to pass the first two-year spending plan without across-the-board cuts since 2006-08. It is too soon to say what the upcoming budget will include, but there is broad agreement that it will be difficult to do more than maintain current-year spending, since tax revenues are expected to decline significantly.
There are two other unknown factors as well. First, we don’t know exactly how much Kentucky will receive from the just-approved federal stimulus, and with the income tax filing deadline moved to July 15, there will be a delay in receiving this incoming state revenue.
Although Senate Bill 150 was the highlight of the legislature’s work on Thursday, there were several other noteworthy bills sent to Gov. Beshear that day as well. House Bill 2, for example, makes needed improvements to Kentucky’s human trafficking laws. That includes requiring airports, bus stations and truck stops to post the hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, to increase the likelihood that victims will be able to get the help they need. House Bill 484 will give more autonomy to our local governments when it comes to running their public retirement system, something our city and county officials have been wanting for several years.
When we return to the Capitol this week, our primary focus will be to vote on a budget compromise. Due to the risk of gathering in groups because of community spread of COVID-19, my hope is that we can vote quickly and head back home until the legislative session’s final days in mid-April, when we return to consider any vetoes that Gov. Beshear might issue.