Legislative Update March 29th, 2020 - Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act
During an emergency, one of the most important things 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 Thursday evening for Senate Bill 150, which will give Governor Andy Beshear, healthcare providers and others the leeway they need as we continue the state of the emergency the governor called on March 6th to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
A key provision in this legislation is the expansion of our unemployment insurance program. Those now eligible include such groups as independent contractors (including barbers, stylists, nail technicians, restaurant staff, etc.), 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.
Another element of Senate Bill 150 is that businesses will see rules relaxed when it comes to licenses issued by the state. In addition, this bill also allows restaurants to sell basic staples like milk and bread and, where already allowed, to deliver alcoholic beverages as long as they are properly sealed and sold to those of legal age.
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 Governor Beshear for his signature, we are still finalizing 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 not to have 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 if we’re lucky, 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 15th, there will be a delay in receiving this money next fiscal year.
Although Senate Bill 150 was the highlight of the legislature’s work on Thursday, there were several other noteworthy bills sent to Governor 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.
House Bill 415, an important measure to our distilleries, will make it possible for those manufacturing alcoholic beverages to ship their product directly to adult consumers here in Kentucky and across the country, as long as sales where they live are legal. There are limits on how much can be shipped, too.
When legislators return to the Capitol this week, our primary focus will be to vote on a budget compromise. While I believe this could have been handled in a special session later this spring, especially since the public is currently barred from being at the Capitol as a healthcare precaution, my hope is that we can take this vote quickly and head back to our home offices until the legislative session final days in mid-April, when we return to consider any vetoes that Governor Beshear might issue.
As always, please continue letting me know your views and concerns on these legislative matters. My email is email@example.com, and the legislative message line is 1-800-372-7181.
Thanks for all you do, be well, and holler anytime.