Legislative Update - Week of March 9, 2020
Clearly things are not exactly normal right now so let me first update you on COVID-19.
Governor Andy Beshear has given at least one and often two public briefings each day on the latest developments involving the coronavirus. I am proud of what we as Kentuckians have done to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Limiting public contact at sporting and civic events, practicing good hygiene, and temporarily closing our schools and colleges have undoubtedly slowed its progress significantly. I also want to give considerable credit to Governor Andy Beshear and our public health officials for keeping us informed and prepared.
Work on expanding testing is moving ahead, as are efforts to limit the growth in cases by quarantining those who have been infected or exposed. By now, most of us have also heard how important it is to wash our hands properly and regularly and not to touch our faces. Simple steps like these can make a world of difference.
While social distancing, which means staying at least six feet apart from others whenever possible, is important in this type of situation, that should not mean social isolation. Thanks to the internet and smart phones, it is easier than ever to stay in contact with loved ones and friends, and I encourage you to do just that even if you feel the need to limit in-person visits, belong to a high-risk group, or know others who fall in these categories.
At the Capitol itself, legislative staff removed half of the chairs in committee rooms to keep people from sitting too closely together and took away all seating in the cafeteria. Legislators did not meet on Friday and Monday as a precaution, but House and Senate leaders indicated they still hope to complete the legislative session by April 15th, the date Kentucky’s constitution says it must end.
Governor Beshear and his administration have many of the tools they need to respond to this crisis, but the General Assembly is ready to act should more revenue or legislation be necessary. Some of those actions could include helping the school districts cope with their missed days or to improve laws governing price gouging, health insurance and unemployment payments
When the legislative session begins again on Tuesday, my General Assembly colleagues and I will be ready to take whatever additional steps we can to help. That may mean more state funding, and it will likely include passing House Bill 461, which would help our schools with their lengthy closure by offering more flexibility in scheduling and attendance and by giving all of them the chance to use nontraditional instructional days to avoid a much longer school year.
There are other state resources that can provide more information. If you believe you have COVID-19, but don’t need emergency assistance, call your local healthcare provider rather than visiting the doctor first or the emergency room. You can also get questions answered by calling the state hotline at 1-800-722-5725 and/or visiting kycovid19.ky.gov, the state-run website that provides the latest updates.
Lastly, if you are having trouble with any issues tied to health insurance, please know you have the option to file a complaint with the Kentucky Department of Insurance. The link to the complaint form can be found here: http://insurance.ky.gov/ppc/static_info.aspx?static_id=1
I will continue to keep you updated as we move ahead, and I want to thank you again for your resilience and for reaching out to those in need. As difficult as it has been in recent days, this willingness to help each other in these trying times is something we should all be proud of.
Although this issue understandably garnered the most attention last week among legislators, there were a number of other significant bills to move forward that deserve mention.
The House, for example, voted unanimously on Monday for House Bill 2, which would update Kentucky’s human-trafficking laws and improve the public’s ability to respond to this crime by having airports, train stations and truck stops put up signs with the phone number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
The chamber also voted for two public retirement-related bills. House Bill 484 gives more independence to the retirement system for local government employees so they have more control over their investments and the system’s governance, while House Bill 613 creates a new retirement option for those hired in 2021 and beyond who work for our regional universities and KCTCS and want to enroll in the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System. Employees at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville are not affected because they participate in separate retirement plans.
In other legislation, the House also voted for House Bill 368, which would allow those with a felony record to use the KEES money they earned with good grades in high school. The hope is that removing this barrier will encourage many benefiting from this to further their education.
In another criminal-justice matter, the House also voted on Friday for House Bill 424, which would modernize our theft and fraud offenses by raising the felony threshold to $1,000. This is one element in a broader move to reduce our overcrowding jails and prisons.
There are only about a dozen days left to complete our work, and these bills plus many others still have to clear the Senate and the governor’s desk before becoming law.
That work, on top of passing a two-year budget to run state government, means we have a lot to do in a relatively short amount of time, and the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus definitely adds a complicating factor.
Whatever ultimately happens, I hope you will continue contacting me with your views and concerns regarding legislative matters. You can always email me at Maria.Sorolis@lrc.ky.gov or you can leave me or any other legislator a message by calling 1-800-372-7181.