The Kentucky constitution requires the General Assembly to meet at the capitol in even numbered years to adopt budgets for the commonwealth, and we are meeting our constitutionally required obligation. Because of the coronavirus that is effecting all of our lives, the General Assembly only met for two days total during the last two weeks.
We are required to have a balanced budget, which means revenue and expenditures must be the same. Economic experts conduct studies to estimate three scenarios for anticipated revenue in the upcoming biennium: optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic.
When we in the House passed our Executive budget proposal for the biennium, we based it on the realistic forecast. As a result, we expected to be able to provide increased funding for K-12 schools, post-secondary education, and social worker recruitment and retention among other things, as well as raises for all public employees.
That all changed with the arrival of COVID-19.
House Bill 352 is the Executive Branch Budget. Therefore House and Senate committees met jointly to develop budgets based on the pessimistic revenue forecast, which was in the neighborhood of $150 million less than the realistic forecast. It was decided that the best way to proceed was with a one-year budget that will take us through Fiscal Year 2021.
This is especially important because even the pessimistic forecast that we are using is likely not pessimistic enough.
Passing a one-year budget allows us to meet our constitutionally required obligation but will require us to develop the Fiscal Year 2022 budget when we convene next January. I am afraid that when we convene in January we will also have to make cuts to the Fiscal 2021 budget.
As I stated, the budget had to be changed to reflect the new reality, but it did include appropriations for pediatric research and to support medical services at county jails. HB 352 would also invest in mental health professionals per school safety requirements found in legislation passed in 2020 and it would meet our commitment under last year’s School Safety and Resiliency Act.
HB 352 was passed by both the House and Senate and sent to the governor for his action. I voted yes on HB-352.
In like manner and for the same reason, House Bill 355, the Legislative Branch Budget, House Bill 356, the Judicial Branch Budget, and House Bill 353, the Transportation Cabinet Budget, were all developed for one year rather than the standard two years.
All three bills were passed by both the House and Senate and sent to the governor for his action. I voted yes on all three bills.
In non-budget activity, we took up several bills addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Senate Bill 150 would provide relief for Kentucky workers by removing the seven-day waiting period for accessing unemployment benefits. It also extends benefits to self-employed and others who would typically not be eligible.
The bill’s provisions also allow employees who have been reduced to part-time status to draw a partial benefit.
SB 150 also includes help for business owners by including language that prevents a business owner’s unemployment insurance rate from being adversely impacted because they had to lay off employees as a result of COVID-19. SB 150 passed both chambers of the General Assembly and has been sent to the governor for his action. I voted yes on SB 150.
Senate Bill 177 provides relief to school districts that are unable under its current school calendar to complete the required 1,062 instructional hours by June 12.
The bill allows school districts to work with the education commissioner to develop a plan for maximizing instructional time to complete 1,062 instructional hours by June 12.
If the commissioner determines the school district has maximized instructional time but cannot complete 1,062 hours by June 12, the commissioner shall waive the remaining required instructional hours. SB 177 passed both chambers and was sent to the governor for his action.
The governor signed SB 177 and it is now law. I voted yes.
In non-budget, non-COVID-19 legislation, Senate Bill 2 came to the floor for a vote. SB 2 is the Voter ID bill that requires a photo ID for voting at the designated polling place. There are exceptions for those who have a religious objection to being photographed or who have lost their ID as long as the voter is personally known by the election officer.
The bill also address absentee voter requirements, but the thrust of the bill is for in-person voting.
In my mind this is common sense legislation and I voted yes. The bill was approved in both the House and Senate and sent to the governor.
Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill. To become law then, both the House and Senate must vote to override his veto.
We reconvene at the capitol the week of April 13. I will vote to override and anticipate that the governor’s veto will be overridden by both chambers.
Lynn Bechler is a Republican member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, representing District 4, which includes Caldwell, Christian, Crittenden and Livingston counties.