Legislative Update 3/28/2020

The legislature was in session just one day this week.  On Thursday, both the House and Senate unanimously passed a COVID-19 relief bill, a new version of SB 150 that is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.  

SB 150 would apply through the end of current state of emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The bill would provide relief to workers, expand access to healthcare and telehealth, grant authority to the Governor, and extend flexibility to taxpayers and businesses.  The bill expands unemployment eligibility to many workers who were previously excluded; increases telehealth opportunities, including for mental health services; shields Kentucky taxpayers from penalties and interest following an extension of the state tax filing and payment deadline; and extends immunity to health care providers who provide treatment “in good faith” during the current health emergency, among other provisions.  

SB 150 also relaxes some regulations for business licenses; would allow restaurants to sell basic staples and, where already allowed, to deliver alcoholic beverages as long as they are properly sealed and sold to those of legal age.  Similar flexibility also applies to companies that have changed their normal production to manufacture emergency items like hand sanitizer, or medical equipment. 
 
Updates on SB and HB 1:
During a Thursday press conference, Speaker of the House David Osborne stated that neither SB 1 or HB 1 would have final passage this session.  The session is still ongoing and anything can still happen, but this is very encouraging!  SB 1 is an anti-immigrant bill (some have called it “the family separation bill”), and HB 1 was an effort to weaken the social safety net for people in dire circumstances who need public assistance.  I’m grateful to have received many messages from 35th District voters opposing both of these deeply problematic bills, and I am optimistic that both have been put to rest. 
 
Addressing a concern:
Earlier this week, a state representative from Northern Kentucky filed an amendment to HB 322 that would allow individuals to sue the government for damages related to executive actions taken to slow the spread of COVID-19.  I have no reason to think that any action will be taken on this bill, but since I have received so many alarmed messages about it, I wanted to go ahead and address it here.  I cannot speak to the motivations of the legislator who filed the amendment but, if enacted, this policy would create chaos and division, and at a time when unity is so needed.  I do not believe that any action will be taken on the amendment to HB 322.   
 
The budget:
The only essential work remaining for the General Assembly is passage of a 2-year budget.  When this work began back in January, it appeared that we were poised to pass the first two-year spending plan not to have across-the-board cuts since 2006-08.  In light of the current state of emergency, members of Republican leadership have signaled that we are likely looking at budget cuts.
I remain troubled about proceeding with this work while the public is barred from the Capitol, and while legislators are working in close quarters counter to CDC guidelines, increasing the odds of spreading the Coronavirus to family, friends, and co-workers back home.  I believe this work could, and should, be addressed in a special session later this spring. If we must proceed, I am hopeful that our focus will remain on essential business only, and only on what is for the good of the Commonwealth.   
 
Gratitude:
Enormous thanks to all of you working on the front lines of the current emergency, and to everyone who is making sacrifices and following guidelines to flatten the curve.  I’m grateful every day to have a Governor who believes in science, who understands the importance of government, and who recognizes the importance of a strong social safety net.
 
Be safe, stay well.