Legislative Update 3/8/2020

A small victory this week!  Pictured above, presenting House Concurrent Resolution 110 to the House Standing Committee on Education.  HCR 110, the “Students First Resolution” reminds lawmakers to consider the impact of all education policy on the 106,159 public school K-12 students in KY identified as exceptional.  Opportunities available to all students include enrichment and accelerated classes, internships, field trips, vocational and industry training programs, extracurriculars, and athletics, but students with disabilities participate in these activities at much lower rates than their non-disabled peers. Often this is because educational laws and policies fail to address or consider the needs of students with special needs.  HCR 110 passed unanimously out of the Education Committee, and moves to the House for a vote.

HB 352, the House Republicans’ version of our state’s 2-year budget, and HB 351 that addresses revenue – 386 pages in all – were made available Thursday evening, and called for a vote in the House on Friday morning.  The good news about HB 352 is that, like the Governor’s proposed budget, the House version proposes no budget cuts for the first time in 14 years.  The disappointing news is that the House version made significant reductions in investing in new social workers to reduce unmanageable caseloads, reduced funding for Pre-K, does not include full funding of teacher health insurance, removed provisions to benefit the Louisville waterfront, inserted a performance-based funding model that puts our cash-strapped public universities in competition with one another, and reduced Medicaid waiver slots for people with disabilities, even though nearly 10,000 Kentuckians are on waitlists for these services.  

HB 351  fails to address our state’s severe revenue shortage, making it impossible for us to invest in education, healthcare, good jobs, clean water, and other obligations and opportunities that would allow us to progress as a state. 

After lengthy and robust discussion, both bills passed.  I voted No on the budget and revenue bills for several reasons: underfunding for education, social workers, and healthcare; lack of transparency in the process, a new proposed $500,000 investment for a far right-wing group; insertion in the revenue bill of an anti-transparency provision that the House had previously rejected; unjustified new funding for the AG’s office; and far too little new revenue to meet even basic needs. 

The budget and revenue bills now proceed to the Senate, where additional changes will be made.

Afterward, legislative leaders will come together for a compromise; the governor will accept or reject some or all of it; and the legislature will decide whether to accept or override any of his vetoes.  That process ends in mid-April, and the two-year budget will take effect in July.

In other news…

SB 2, a voter ID bill, passed the House this week after hours of debate. The bill would, with some limited exceptions, require photo IDs to vote, even though current law already requires identification be shown.  There are many voters who do not have a photo ID, and even though the bill proposes to provide these for free (at the taxpayers’ expense), it still creates an added barrier at the polls.  Kentucky is already one of the most difficult states in which to cast a vote.   Experts testified in committee, and I argued on the House floor, that SB 2 further disenfranchises people who are already marginalized, could cost the state millions of tax dollars, and creates confusion that will discourage and suppress voting. 

It is important to note that SB 2 is being championed by Kentucky’s new Secretary of State. The Secretary testified in Committee that in-person voter fraud is not a problem.  When pressed, then, about the need for this bill, the Secretary explained that SB 2 is needed because of a potentially competitive US Senate race this November.    SB 2 is not about what’s good for Kentucky; SB 2 is pure political partisanship.  SB 2 passed the House on a near party line vote.

On the topic of voter access,  I want to highlight Governor Beshear’s recent announcement that the 152,000 people with a non-violent felony record who had their voting rights restored through December’s executive order can now quickly check their eligibility.  If you or someone you know would like to check voter eligibility, please visit civilrightsrestoration.ky.gov.  A link there leads to another website where you can register to vote.

Finally, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has established a web page that will be updated daily regarding the Corona virus: https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/pages/covid19.aspx  The advice we continue to get, and are advised to pass along, is to keep calm and wash your hands. 

As always, you may contact me by email, telephone, or by calling the Legislative Message Line: 1-800-372-7181.