|FRANKFORT ⎯ It’s a New Year, Kentucky! 2023 is here, and the Kentucky General Assembly convened in Frankfort on Tuesday for the opening week of the 2023 session. In odd-numbered years, the General Assembly meets for a short, 30-day session with a brief break following the first several days of legislative proceedings, known as “Part I.” Lawmakers then return to Frankfort in early February to complete the remainder of the session with the constitutional obligation of adjourning before March 30. |
Mainly used as a procedural week, the first week consisted of newly-elected and re-elected members who took their oath of office, attesting they “have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it.” Legislators also confirmed the leadership of their respective caucuses and established the rules of the Senate.
Reporters caught up with Senate President Robert Stivers upon adjournment of day one, pressing him on which issues he envisions being popular topics moving forward. He noted several relevant matters the supermajority intends to prioritize, including legislation to continue lowering the income tax in Kentucky.
During the 2022 session, the supermajority enacted a tax reform measure in House Bill 8 (HB 8 22RS) that reduced the income tax in Kentucky from 5% to 4.5%. These changes went into effect at the beginning of the New Year.
“Tax cuts” is a nice buzzword, and who doesn’t want their taxes cut? However, I voted against HB 8 last session because lowering the income tax disproportionately benefits the wealthier individuals in our state and is a policy that is regressive, adversely impacting middle and low income families. Furthermore, these cuts endanger future investments in our public schools, public health outcomes, housing, and other demands across the commonwealth.
The tax changes established in HB 8 may not have much of an impact initially, but eventually, hard-working Kentuckians will feel it in their pocketbooks. We could utilize these funds to strengthen our public school system, and rebuild our infrastructure. Instead, we will likely continue passing regressive measures that stand to harm those who are already hurting.
Another topic the Senate President expressed interest in is the continuation of rolling back unemployment insurance benefits. In 2022, the General Assembly passed legislation slashing the length of unemployment insurance from 26 weeks to 12 weeks. I voted no on the original bill, and against voted no on overturning the Governor’s veto.
I fear the drastic cuts to unemployment insurance will lowers wages, resulting in higher poverty and squandered opportunities for those looking to make a career. Instead of cutting benefits that people earn, we should support workers by increasing wages, creating affordable child care opportunities, and investing more in home and community-based services for the aging parents of working-age children.
I assumed my position as a member of the new Senate Standing Committee on Families and Children as it held its inaugural meeting on Wednesday. The committee is a result of the Child Welfare Task Force and will discuss an array of matters pertaining to child welfare, including: adoptions; children’s homes; commitment and care of children and families; child protective services; adult protective services; state guardianship; caregiver support services; rape crisis centers; and more. Members plan to undertake these intricate issues and led off the 2023 committee agenda hearing testimony from Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, on child abuse and neglect in Kentucky.
Friedlander lauded the General Assembly for the recent changes and said some issues go overshadowed under the old structure, pointing to the mission of the Department for Community-Based Services (DCBS) as an example. He also stated that Medicaid hospital providers and nursing facilities garner much of the attention surrounding the issues and that not enough attention is on the DCBS side, the child protective service side, and the adult protective service side.
Kentucky ranks far behind other states regarding juvenile justice. As a practitioner, I am thrilled to see these changes considered. During my time in the legislature, I have dealt with the issues of child abuse and neglect, pondering the best approach to improve services. I remain committed to being on the ground and in the trenches working with the Cabinet and the challenges they face. The committee will aim to tackle these issues as we deliberate on them moving forward.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden joined Governor Andy Beshear, United States Senator Mitch McConnell, and Ohio officials in Covington, KY, for a funding announcement on the Brent Spence Bridge. The Governor campaigned on taking the steps necessary to repair our critical infrastructure by developing a plan and working across party lines, and we did just that. Thanks to the advocacy of Gov. Beshear and Sen. McConnell, and the legislature meeting the required matching funds in the biennial road plan, Kentucky secured the largest ever federal infrastructure grant in state history, with $1.6 billion obtained through the bipartisan Build Back Better Bill.
The Brent Spence Bridge project is a testament to what we can achieve when we put politics aside and work on the issue at hand. Major achievements such as these are a team effort and good governance. We may differ on how we reach a resolution, but we must remain focused on the overarching objective, which is bettering the lives of everyday Kentuckians. I would implore the General Assembly to let this historic event serve as an example of what we can accomplish when we work together.
Everything is fluid in the early days of a short session, so it is hard to tell what policy areas and issues will be covered moving forward. Stay tuned! In next week’s column, we will discuss the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth address and compare the priorities he laid out to those of the supermajority. We will deep dive into the areas where there is potential for cooperation and other policy areas that may provoke division.
For more information on the 2023 session, visit www.legislature.ky.gov, where you can see the weekly schedule, watch live and archived coverage of committee meetings, search legislator contact information, learn about the legislative process, view informational materials, and request to testify at committee meetings. If I can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
To share feedback on an issue, feel free to email me anytime at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV or call the General Assembly Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. Kentuckians with hearing loss can use Kentucky Relay by dialing 711.