It was a strange week at the Capitol, much as it was all over Kentucky and the rest of the U.S. Almost empty committee rooms during hearings, half the staff working remotely, cafeteria closed except for carry out, but the General Assembly still in session.
As I noted in my last update, the General Assembly was not to be in session March 16 but was scheduled to be in session the remainder of the week. That changed as additional cases of COVID-19 were discovered in the commonwealth. Because of this, the Friday session was canceled as were the Monday-Wednesday sessions.
During the three days we were in session, several committee meetings were held and votes were taken on the House floor. Among these were House Bills 352, 353, 354, 355 and 356, House Joint Resolution 6, and Senate Bills 150 and 177.
House Bill 352 is the Executive Branch Budget bill that was passed in the House on March 6 and sent to the Senate. The Senate made substantial changes to the House Budget proposal and returned it to the House asking for the House to concur with the Senate changes. I voted not to concur with the Senate changes, the House chose not to concur and the bill was sent back to the Senate. A conference committee consisting of both House and Senate members will be formed to work out the differences and come up with a budget that is acceptable to both chambers.
House Bill 353 is the Transportation Cabinet Budget bill; House Bill 354 (HB-354) is the biennial road plan; House Bill 355 (355) is the Legislative Branch Budget Bill; House Bill 356 (HB-356) is the Judicial Branch Budget bill; and House Joint Resolution 6 (HJR-6) is the resolution defining the last four years of the six-year road plan. All of these bills and the resolution were passed by the House and sent to the Senate for its consideration. I voted yes on all of them.
The governor has declared a state of emergency and has recommended a number of actions, but to address the ramifications of those recommendations, laws need to be enacted.
Senate Bill 150 (SB-150) started life as a proposal relating to out of network insurance charges, but was changed to provide emergency relief for citizens and businesses during the current state of emergency brought on by COVID-19. As I’ve noted on multiple occasions, the entire language of a bill could be removed and other language inserted; this is what happened with SB-150. The bill would provide for allowing the governor to do a number of things including removing the seven-day waiting period before someone becoming eligible for unemployment insurance, and by extending the maximum time unemployment insurance could be collected beyond the current 26 weeks. SB-150 would also provide that the governor could waive the collection of fees where these fees are currently required to do business in the Commonwealth. In addition, the bill would make physical therapy or occupational therapy if ordered for a patient by a physician licensed in Kentucky, to be considered an essential health care service in Kentucky. I voted yes, the bill was passed by the House and sent to the Senate for its action.
Senate Bill 177 is another case where the entire language of a bill was removed and other language inserted. SB 177 started life as a proposal to change hair stylist definitions and to provide for instructor training in that area.
Among other things, SB-177 as amended now provides that school districts may be approved for nontraditional instruction days related to the emergency; waives student attendance day requirements and provides options for schools to complete 1,062 instructional hours for the 2019-2020 school year; allows school districts to provide additional emergency leave days for staff due to the emergency; allows principals to award additional educational enhancement opportunity days to students to meet obligations that occur prior to the last day of school. I voted yes, the House passed the bill and sent it to the Senate, the Senate passed the bill and sent it to the governor who signed it into law. SB-177 is effective immediately and is retroactive March 6.
There have been calls for the General Assembly to adjourn “sine die” (with no appointed date for resumption), but in order for the General Assembly to meet its constitutionally required obligation, we must stay in session to pass a budget and conduct business. Our constitution mandates that we meet in person and pass the budget by April 15.
Without a budget, the governor would have to call a special session before the end of the fiscal year or he would be free to spend money as he saw fit without any input from the legislature, the third co-equal branch of government. House and Senate leadership approached the governor on three separate occasions requesting that he issue a call for a special session now for a “date certain” so that we too could do what he has asked all Kentuckians to do, but he has refused. It is sad that the governor is playing politics with this issue, but he is. Therefore we have no choice but to do our duty.
Lynn Bechler is a Republican member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, representing District 4, which includes Caldwell, Christian, Crittenden and Livingston counties.