Legislative Update - April 11th, 2020
Debbie and I continue to pray for the health and well-being of all, as we get through this together #TeamKentucky.
Legislative sessions are often remembered for one or two key laws, but given the unforgettable month we all have had because of the coronavirus, there’s no doubt what this year’s chief memory will be. An illness few of us had even heard of in January changed virtually everything by early March, and for the General Assembly, that meant a shortened schedule focused primarily on emergency measures and passing a bare-bones one-year budget.
Even so, there are many other new laws from this legislative session that deserve mention as well. More will likely be added this week, when the House and Senate return from a brief recess to consider whether to override any of Governor Andy Beshear’s vetoes and possibly vote on a handful of other unresolved bills.
Several of this year’s prominent new laws will improve our collective health. Senate Bill 56, for example, will raise the age to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21, a move mirroring a federal law passed in December. Building on this is budgetary language that raises taxes on e-cigarettes.
House Bill 99, meanwhile, will help the University of Louisville with its purchase of Jewish Hospital and other medical facilities by authorizing a partially forgivable $35 million loan. Had the hospital closed, it would have significantly undermined healthcare services in Louisville and been a major hit economically as well.
A similar effort to help rural hospitals at risk of closing could pass the General Assembly this week, a move that I believe is very much needed.
For those who served our country, House Bill 24 allocates money toward designing Kentucky’s fifth veterans nursing home, which will be built in Bowling Green. It’s worth noting the budget includes language stating a sixth will one day be in Magoffin County.
Three other healthcare-related laws will have a broad statewide impact. House Bill 135 will allow physician assistants to prescribe controlled substances, something already possible in every other state; Senate Bill 50 will give the Executive Branch more direct control of Medicaid’s pharmacy program (thanks Mark and Christy for all your help!); and House Bill 129 (which I was honored to be a major partner on) will refocus public health departments on their core mission while re-allocating money to help those in more rural areas meet these requirements.
In education, the General Assembly approved House Bill 312, which will streamline the transfer of foster children’s academic records from one school district to another. This law will also create a statewide database of foster homes that have been closed by child-placement agencies.
Senate Bill 8 builds on last year’s school-safety law by setting goals of having a school counselor or mental health service provider for every 250 students and a school resource officer on every school campus. Nearly $40 million in the budget has been set aside to help schools implement new safety upgrades.
In other new laws, the General Assembly:
Makes it possible for manufacturers of alcoholic beverages to ship their product to customers directly, if sales are allowed where they live. (House Bill 415)
Gives local governments more authority to run their public retirement system. (House Bill 484)
Provides those on probation a chance to shorten their punishment by taking positive steps like obtaining their GED. (House Bill 284)
Establishes that the Transportation Cabinet, not circuit court clerks, will eventually be issuing all drivers licenses, including the more enhanced REAL ID. (House Bill 453)
Improves Kentucky’s human-trafficking laws and requires bus stations, truck stops and airports to prominently post a national hotline where people can report this crime. (House Bill 2)
As I mentioned, the General Assembly is back in Frankfort this week, but just for one or two days to wrap up the legislative session. Our top priority will be reviewing the governor’s vetoes, which will include budgetary ones as well as those he has issued for several other bills.
The bills he rejected would do such things as change how gubernatorial candidates pick their running mate; let local governments in more populous counties use the internet instead of newspapers to post public notices; limit taxing authority for many local districts, and require a photo ID to vote (here’s an excerpt from Gov. Beshear’s veto message on SB 2: the provisions of the law would create an obstacle to the ability of Kentuckians to exercise their right to vote, resulting in fewer people voting and undermining our democracy. Furthermore, no documented evidence of recent voter fraud in the form of impersonation in Kentucky has been presented in support of Senate Bill 2 and, therefore, the legislation would be attempting to resolve a problem that does not exist).
Next week, I will cover the outcome of those and any other new bills we pass. In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who reached out this legislative session to let me know your views or concerns.
Although the time to pass new laws is over for the year, legislators will be returning to the Capitol in June to start what we call the interim, when our committees will begin reviewing issues in preparation for next year’s legislative session.
You can always reach me by using the legislative message line at 1-800-372-7181 or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to review the bills I’ve mentioned, please visit the General Assembly’s website at Legislature.Ky.Gov.
Thanks for all you do, stay safe, and holler anytime.