Legislative Update - April 19th, 2020
Deb and I continue to pray for health and safety, peace and comfort for everyone.
Under Kentucky’s constitution, two hard deadlines govern legislative sessions in even-numbered years: They cannot last more than 60 working days, and they cannot extend beyond April 15th.The coronavirus may have shortened the former this year by more than a week, but the House and Senate tested the limits of the latter by adjourning just minutes before midnight on Wednesday, culminating two long days of work.
By the time the final gavel fell, the General Assembly had regrettably overridden nearly every veto Governor Andy Beshear had issued and approved more than 30 bills on top of the 91 already now law.
Except for two constitutional amendments that will go before voters in November, the fate of the new legislation rests entirely in the hands of the Governor, who has 10 days, excluding Sunday, to decide whether to accept or reject these bills.
In the end, this year’s legislative session was truly unlike any other in modern times. I still believe we should have ended our work last month, Governor Beshear promised to call us back when it was safe to return. More than 20 other state legislatures did adjourn to reduce the chance of spreading the deadly virus, or used technology to conduct business like so many others. At the very least, the General Assembly should have just focused on quickly passing a budget and COVID-related emergency measures especially with public being necessarily excluded right now. While I am grateful we accomplished those twin goals, we also spent more time than necessary on bills that could have been better handled next year when we’re opened back up.
While technology helped other legislators to vote and ask questions from the relative safety of our legislative offices or vehicles, even that was too risky for some of my elderly colleagues, unfairly limiting what they were elected to do. I was honored to be asked by my leadership to be one of the only six Democrats allowed on the House floor to help coordinate the process with our members those last two days while social distancing.
Our primary focus during the legislative session’s last two days was considering the governor’s vetoes. He struck down relatively little while asking for maximum flexibility to deal with the pandemic, and he also sought to keep our coal counties and teachers from bearing an unfair burden financially in this budget. These were sensible requests, but unfortunately they were turned down.
The same thing happened with his veto of Senate Bill 2, which will now require most voters to show a photo ID, starting in November counting Kentucky as part of a national trend to suppress the vote. Current law already requires voters to provide some form of ID, but this new requirement will add another hurdle for many who may not drive, who may have just moved or who may have changed their name because of marriage.
There has not been a single verified example of in-person voter fraud in at least 20 years, and while the bill does provide a free ID for those in need of one, there was little discussion about its potentially high cost. Indiana, for example, spent $10 million on personal IDs over several years after enacting a similar law.
As Governor Beshear rightfully noted, the indefinite closure of state offices to the public complicates matters further, and if other states attempting this are a guide, this law will likely be struck down by the courts since it was rushed during an election year. Should that happen, it will only add to the confusion and cost.
With voting in mind, the General Assembly also approved two constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot during November’s election. One known as Marsy’s Law will give victims more of a voice in their criminal cases, and if this seems familiar, it’s because a similar amendment was approved in 2018. However, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the language voters saw then was too vague, which is why it is being presented again. The other amendment will lengthen the terms of district judges and commonwealth’s attorneys to eight years, beginning in 2022 and 2030, respectively.
Some of the other bills to clear the House and Senate this past week would do such things as:
Help struggling rural hospitals by making them eligible for economic development loans offered by the state
Give the state more authority to reduce jail overcrowding by moving inmates to facilities having more room
Update accountability guidelines for our schools, so the public can better follow where they are doing well and where more improvement is needed
Create a new program that will make it easier for state employees to be a living-organ donor
Call on law enforcement agencies to document their guidelines for conducting high-speed chases.
The legislature did consider more COVID-related emergency measures, but the most significant of those did not make it through the Republican controlled state Senate. Had it passed, it would have had our restaurants, hospitals, chiropractors and other professional organizations working on advisory plans to Governor Beshear within 15 days of passage for when the time comes to begin lifting restrictions. It passed the House 86 to 3 and I was happy to vote for it after my colleagues agreed to make some logical, helpful changes.
Despite it not passing, Governor Beshear did announce this past week that Kentucky was partnering with Indiana, Ohio and several other Midwestern states to come up with regional plans on how and when we restore more normalcy to our lives. That is certainly welcome news.
Although our work passing laws is done, it is never too late to let me know your views on issues affecting Kentucky. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, while the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181.
Thanks for all you’re doing, we’re going to get through this, and holler anytime.