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Legislative Update: 4/7/21

By: Robin L. Webb
for Carter County Times

FRANKFORT – Well, it’s a wrap. Legislators worked late into the night on Tuesday, the 30th and final day of the 155th regular meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly, concluding what has been a particularly odd legislative session. It has essentially felt like something out of a movie with all the plot twists and uncertain outcomes. From a public health crisis to extreme weather conditions, an unconventional 1-year budget, and everything in-between, this time lawmakers had some major issues to confront. 

Good news in the district as Governor Andy Beshear announced $4.3 million in Land and Water Conservation Funds for 43 projects earmarked for parks and outdoor activities across the Commonwealth. Included are three projects in Ashland, Flatwoods, and Raceland. 

Ashland will use $175,000 to construct an inclusive playground in downtown Ashland’s Central Park. Flatwoods will use $82,802 to upgrade the Flatwoods City Pool complex with new cleaning technology, patch work, and two coats of epoxy. The city’s plans also include adding racing lines, targets, a new water feature at the kiddie pool, fencing, gates, and an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible pool lift. Raceland will use $71,448 to add pour-in-place rubber to construct ADA accessible trails from the school to the playground and to each piece of playground equipment. 

We have some of the best parks and outdoors in our state. As we look beyond the pandemic and toward summer, these upgrades will provide a sense of community and help get people outdoors. I am thrilled to see these funds being invested in our eastern Kentucky communities. 

When members returned to Frankfort Monday and Tuesday to complete the final two days of the short, biennial, 30-day session, we were faced with a host of vetoes that Republicans wanted to overturn. Governor Andy Beshear reviewed bills passed by the legislature and used his executive power to veto and make line-item deletions in several pieces of legislation. However, the Republican supermajorities in both chambers chose to override nearly all of those actions, rendering the Governor’s power nearly ineffective. 

One of the Governor’s decisions that the Kentucky General Assembly spent much of its time discussing related to the state budget. The roughly $12 billion executive branch spending document outlined in House Bill (HB) 192 is a near continuation from the previous fiscal year, with necessary modifications. The supermajority voted to override 18 of the 20 line-item vetoes to portions of HB 192. The vote to override the vetoes was 31-7 in the Senate and 71-24 in the House of Representatives. 

I voted to sustain the Governor’s veto of HB 192. I am concerned with a provision in the bill that states the billions in COVID-19 federal relief money Kentucky is expecting to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act cannot be expended without the consent of the General Assembly. We are a part-time legislature, and the Governor needs more flexibility while we are not in session–especially as we move past the pandemic. 

I voted to uphold some of the vetoes issued by Gov. Beshear based on my interpretation, and the fact many of them were directed at diminishing the power of the executive, which is worrisome in regard to the separation of powers. In total, 24 of the 27 vetoes sent back to the General Assembly were overturned and will now go into law notwithstanding the Governor’s signature. You can view a full list of the vetoes overturned by the legislature at legislature.ky.gov. 

Aside from veto overrides, the Senate also took up several bills on the final two days. Some of the laws addressed passed with bipartisan support and will benefit all Kentuckians. Other bills I fear may have negative impacts. 

Bills passed and delivered to the Governor include:

  • Senate Bill (SB) 4 creates procedures and requirements for the issuance of both search warrants and arrest warrants that authorize entry to a property without notice. Commonly known as a no-knock search warrant, the provisions in SB 4 would only be allowed to be executed under certain circumstances. While SB 4 is not perfect and does not include everything we fought for, it is an important step forward.
  • HB 382 was amended by the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee to provide $140 million for full-day kindergarten. It also allocates other funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to various uses. Those include: $575 million to pay back the interest and principal on the federal unemployment insurance trust fund loan taken by Kentucky during the pandemic; $842,400 for Kentucky’s nature preserves; $50,000 for the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission; and, $3.3 million to reopen the Northern Kentucky Regional Medical Examiner Office. In addition, the bill adds $50 million more for broadband expansion through ARPA funds. 
  • HB 556 allocates $53 million of ARPA funds for Capitol renovations, $127 million for school facility construction, and $75 million for renovation costs at local area vocational education centers. It allocates $37 million in federal funds to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to provide grants for limiting the spread of COVID-19, $20 million to rural hospitals in a revolving loan fund, and $14.7 million to provide technology upgrades in county jails.
  • SB 36 was amended to appropriate $250 million of the ARPA funds for drinking water and wastewater grant programs. Splitting $150 million will be all 120 counties, with another $50 million going toward providing drinking water services to unserved areas. Another portion of the bill allocates around $50 million to assist the Department of Corrections with mental health, substance abuse, and reentry centers and the associated costs to operate them.
  • HB 91, a proposed constitutional amendment, will allow Kentucky voters to decide next year whether to add the following words to the state constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of Abortion.”

Most new laws approved this year will go into effect 90 days following adjournment unless they include an emergency order, which goes into effect immediately. I will report back with a more detailed and comprehensive list of the bills passed during the session in the near future, so stay tuned. For now, members will return to their districts until we begin the interim period, unless called into an Extraordinary Session by the Governor. 

I hope you and your family had a blessed Easter! If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, I remain accessible by email at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV. For more information on the 2021 General Assembly, visit http://www.legislature.ky.gov. You can also leave a message for me on the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. Citizens with hearing impairments can use the Kentucky Relay Service at 711.

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