Legislative Update - August 2, 2020
For most issues the General Assembly studies in-depth, the normal committee process can handle the workload. Often, however, legislators supplement this effort by creating task forces that spend months reviewing a specific matter before recommending changes.
In 2017, for example, one such group laid the foundation for 2018’s House Bill 1, which made significant improvements to Kentucky’s adoption and foster care policies. Another group did something similar for 2019's far-reaching school-safety law.
In 2020, legislators have not but one but eight different task forces, several of which have already begun to meet. Two of the more tightly focused ones are studying how to improve the worker-classification system in the construction industry and if there needs to be changes in the way property valuation administrators (PVAs) operate their offices.
One of this year's more prominent task forces is studying Kentucky’s public water and wastewater systems. It actually began this work last year, and a primary focus then centered on how the state should respond to utilities that keep their rates artificially low and then struggle to provide basic services.
This year, the task force spent its meeting last week learning more about how utilities are handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Public Service Commission, Kentucky and more than two dozen other states passed emergency measures blocking service disconnections for non-payment while a state of emergency is still in effect. Some states, but not Kentucky, have begun to lift those moratoriums.
A PSC survey of utilities indicated that there has not been a significant increase in non-paying customers; those behind in their payments, though, are seeing what they owe climb.
A day after this meeting, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting wrote that the issue seems to be more pronounced in Jefferson County. The article said Louisville Water Company had more than 13,000 delinquent customers in early June, well above the 2,000 they see during more normal months, while Louisville Gas and Electric had delinquent accounts 75 percent higher than last year’s average.
To help bring these numbers down, some utilities are using payment plans so customers can chip away at what is owed, and there are grants to qualified families. There is discussion about having government assistance for water and sewer services that would mirror the longstanding program used to help families with heating bills in the winter.
Another task force meeting this year will review jail and corrections reforms. This will build on years of work designed to bring down prison numbers while maintaining public safety. Kentucky historically has had one of the lowest violent-crime rates among the states, but our prison population outpaces the national average because of drug-related crimes.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly enacted a law giving the state more authority to move state prisoners housed in severely overcrowded jails. Another new law provides those on probation a chance to reduce their time under state supervision if they take such positive steps as obtaining their GED. Future proposals to reduce jail overcrowding could include updating the dollar amount for a felony theft or burglary charge. Those limits haven't been raised for years.
Another approach to bringing down the rate of those incarcerated is finding ways to increase the number of substance abuse-treatment opportunities. One of this year's task forces will see how Kentucky uses grants to help provide these services and if there are further steps we can take to get more of those fighting addiction back on their feet.
Two task forces will study how to better help Kentuckians with brain injuries and who have exception medical needs. The last task force will take up judicial structuring and redistricting, to ensure court circuits have more equitable workloads in the years ahead.
If you would like to learn more about these task forces and who serves on them, please visit the General Assembly’s website at legislature.ky.gov/. Under the heading “Committees,” choose “Special Committees.” If you have concerns you think require task force study, please let me know.
And if you have questions about any other issues affecting the state, please let me know. You can email me at Maria.Sorolis@lrc.ky.gov or you can leave me a message at 1-800-372-7181, a toll-free number.