As I drove home from the Capitol last week, I saw so many businesses closed, so few people out and about. I have no doubt that we are doing the right thing. I support what our public health agencies are doing to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19.
However, I know it is easy to get discouraged. We must remember that Kentuckians are strong, and we are resilient. When we stand united in times of trouble, we can meet even the greatest of challenges.
While the Governor and our public health officials continue to work to slow the spread of the coronavirus, I am working with my colleagues in the legislature to craft a budget and pass meaningful and necessary legislation. As I have mentioned before, the legislature is constitutionally obligated to pass a balanced state budget. When the House passed its version in early March, we were proud to include funding increases for education; modest pay raises for school employees, teachers and state employees; and money to hire and retain additional social workers to serve our most vulnerable children.
Though that was just a few weeks ago, it now seems a world apart. Due to the pandemic, we are facing difficult decisions. The budget conference committee heard from the Governor’s budget director early last week, and the newly revised revenue forecast is far more severe today. In all likelihood, we will see funding for many programs — like education — stagnate, with no increase to SEEK funding or higher education.
We will be working on the details of this new plan until the legislature convenes again on April 1 to vote on the final budget. While things seem grim now, I am still optimistic that we will see a turnaround once COVID-19 has run its course and people can return to work.
In the meantime, my colleagues and I continue working to provide economic relief to Kentuckians. We sent a COVID-19 relief measure to the Governor that will help Kentucky workers access unemployment benefits, Kentucky businesses cope with financial burdens, and help medical providers who are on the front line of this crisis. Senate Bill 150, which was amended by the House and again in conference committee, incentivizes manufacturers and other companies who switch to make personal protective devices. The bill also gives some flexibility to our agricultural community — farmers and agri-industry companies have stepped up to help meet needs.
You may remember that two weeks ago we sent the Governor a bill to help our public schools as they serve students while their doors are shut. I am pleased that the Governor chose to sign this bill into law. I hope that it drives home the point that all branches of government must work together to get through these difficult times.
House Bill 2 and HB 491 as of Monday awaited the Governor’s signature.
HB 2 is a landmark piece of legislation aimed at aiding victims of human trafficking and strengthening the ability to prosecute traffickers. The measure is a priority of the House Majority Caucus. It is the result of a collaborative effort with Attorney General Daniel Cameron and other stakeholders to provide common sense solutions to human trafficking. The provisions of the bill increase resources and awareness of resources available to victims; adds those convicted of human trafficking for prostitution to the sex offender registry; and provide more significant support to law enforcement and prosecutors working human trafficking cases.
We worked on this measure for months. While it does not directly help the COVID-19 response, it does make significant strides in helping the thousands of women, men, and children who are trafficked every day.
We also passed a bill that will help spur economic investment and recovery. HB 491 cleans up existing language in various tax incentive statutes, including the Angel Investment Tax Credit, Small Business Tax Credit and Selling Farmer Tax Credit. It was drafted to loosen some qualifications while still ensuring that the incentives would not be misused.
As we continue work in the remaining days of the session, I want to remind you that the legislature has put in place several safety procedures based on the recommendations of public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I hope everyone will heed the warnings they have issued.
If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at ChrisFreeland@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at Legislature.ky.gov and you can also follow me on Facebook@Freelandforky.
Rep. Chris Freeland, represents the 6th District, which includes Lyon, Marshall and part of McCracken County.