Legislative Update - Interim - June 9th, 2020
Before we get into the regular interim update, please allow me to say in short what I’ve been telling dozens and dozens of people, emailers and callers about the traumatic events of late surrounding the assault on basic human dignities by some in power, and the systemic racism and injustices that exist and are perpetuated by some in power.
I agree with so many excellent organizations, and individuals that are expressing anger and frustration at the structural, institutional and individual racism that still exists, and has deadly consequences-- in many ways. One of America’s greatest leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1967: “And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” He was right then and he’s right now.
I’m committed to helping reform policies and procedures and cultures that can positively affect this systemic problem hurting our country and state, and neighbors. I answered the call to step strongly into the political arena to help all the people, speak truth to power and work very hard for positive change, and will NOT back down now.
Thank you for all you are doing to make a positive difference in the lives around us, our communities, state and world. It matters. And is appreciated. Deb and I continue to pray that God’s will, and love, will be showered on the hearts and minds of all of us as we strive to live our purpose He has designed for us.
Over a calendar year, the General Assembly has two distinct periods of activity: its legislative session, when new laws are passed, and what is called the interim, when House and Senate committees come together to review issues affecting the state.
While much of the public’s attention is understandably focused on the former – which starts in early January and lasts for 30 or 60 working days, depending on the year – the latter also plays an important role. Legislators use this time to gather more information and public input so we are better prepared when it comes time once again to file and consider legislation.
The General Assembly has 14 main committees – from Agriculture and Education to Local Government and Transportation – plus 11 others that permanently monitor various aspects of the Executive Branch, including administrative regulations, the budget and Medicaid.
Last week, legislators returned to the Capitol to kick off this year’s interim, which will last until the early days of December. Not surprisingly, the common theme of the opening round of these monthly meetings was the considerable impact that the coronavirus is having across state government.
Transportation Cabinet officials, for example, said the Road Fund’s sudden and steep shortfall has all but stopped new projects, while mowing rights-of-way and repaving projects are being delayed. April’s revenues, the officials said, were almost a third below what they were in April 2019.
In testimony before the General Assembly’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee, state budget officials painted a clearer picture of the economic challenges Kentucky faces. Their slides showed manufacturing employment is projected to be down a tenth during the last three months of this fiscal year, while wages and salaries earned by Kentuckians over the same timeframe are expected to decline by about a fourth.
The silver lining is that these numbers may already be moving quickly in the other direction, based on the significant job growth in May that the federal government reported late last week.
That same trajectory will also hopefully be seen with the investments managed by Kentucky Retirement Systems. Its leaders told legislators last week that a conservative approach has helped the retirement funds minimize losses, which are on track to show declines of less than two percent for the year. Still, that’s a long way from the roughly five to six percent investment growth KRS strives to reach annually.
In last week’s Judiciary Committee, there was debate about whether changes need to be made to the governor's authority during an emergency like the coronavirus. Some argue that this legal leeway needs to be scaled back when the emergency extends for weeks, while others said limiting the governor’s ability to act would make the state slower to respond to changing events.
During the legislature’s Education Committee meeting, school officials said a lot of questions still remain when it comes to deciding how to teach students without putting them or their families at risk of catching the virus. Some of the changes being considered include having the students stay in the same classroom all day, requiring them to eat lunch at their desks and starting the year much earlier than normal, which would make it easier to make up days if there are extended closures in the months ahead.
One educational success story arising from this pandemic is the way our schools' food services have met the challenge of feeding students while they are at home. According to the Department of Education, there were nearly 4.7 million meals and snacks served in March but that more than doubled to almost 11.5 million in April. On average, more than 300,000 students received food each school day that month. Those coordinating this deserve considerable praise.
As we move further into the interim, the General Assembly will continue monitoring the state’s response to the virus, racial injustices and other issues affecting Kentucky. At this point, there are no longer any plans for a special session this month to address the Road Fund’s steep decline. Governor Beshear and legislative leaders agreed this may be better handled later in the fall, and it could also be addressed retroactively when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol in January.
For now, I encourage you to contact me if you have questions or comments about anything affecting our community or the commonwealth. You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can leave any legislator or me a message, toll-free, at 1-800-372-7181.
Thanks again for all you are doing and holler anytime.