Frankfort, like most of the world, is not the same place it was two weeks ago when the governor announced the state’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.
Most if not all schools in the state are now closed to traditional classes until at least first week of April, and likely longer. Childcare centers are closing by order of the governor, who over the past week has also restricted service at restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other businesses, as well as public gatherings, in response to his declared state of emergency to address the virus known as COVID-19.
Not even the state’s primary election and the Kentucky Derby, both held historically in May, have been able to withstand cautionary changes in response to the public health emergency: the election is now postponed until June 23, and the Derby—held continuously each year on the first Saturday in May since 1946 — is rescheduled for Sept. 5.
All of this comes as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 both nationally and here in Kentucky continues to mount, with public officials at the state and federal levels working diligently to keep ahead of its spread. Government action to slow the damage caused by the virus has been reassuring so far, with more safeguards planned during what remains a very fluid situation.
The Kentucky House for its part last week passed two COVID-19 relief bills: an amended Senate Bill 177, which would provide relief to schools, certified public school teachers, and students affected by interruptions to the school year, and SB 150—amended by the House to provide economic relief for Kentucky workers, businesses, and taxpayers. Each bill contains an emergency clause, requiring relief provisions to take effect immediately after the bills are signed by the governor or otherwise become law. The measures each moved to the Senate on Thursday on an 84-0 vote, with final passage given to SB 177 in the Senate that evening—SB 150 is expected to be voted on in the upper chamber in coming days.
Help at the federal level is also on the way. Congress last week acted swiftly to pass a massive coronavirus relief package—signed by President Trump—that includes provisions for paid emergency leave and other help for Americans affected by the virus. Another phase of federal relief — direct payments to Americans — is in the works, as is a trillion-dollar federal business stimulus package now in negotiations.
There is no denying that Kentuckians are dealing with a situation that most of us have never experienced in our lifetime and will hopefully never experience again. COVID-19 is dangerous, expensive, and expected to stick around for at least several more weeks. It is the hope of the Kentucky House that government action taken to date at the state and federal levels to slow some of the damage caused by the virus offers some reassurance to citizens of the Commonwealth, and beyond.
Work on state budget matters also continued through Thursday at the State Capitol. Some say we shouldn’t have been in session at all last week, and that point of view is understandable. The reason we continued to meet is that a number of lawmakers believed passing a state Executive Branch budget—a goal we moved closer to with Senate passage of the budget bill Thursday afternoon—is critical in the few session days that remain.
Both House and Senate Majority leadership announced on Thursday that final action on the $24 billion two-year Executive Branch budget is expected by the first of April. The chambers adjourned on Thursday until March 26, when they are expected to reconvene for one day of session duties before returning to Frankfort again on April 1 to give final passage to the Executive Branch budget bill and send it to the governor.
At that point there will still be a couple of legislative days left before the session’s final adjournment by April 15. Lawmakers believe those two days, scheduled for April 14-15, should give them enough time to vote to override any vetoes the governor may hand down during his scheduled veto recess beginning April 2 and ending April 13. The veto recess schedule currently remains unchanged, allowing lawmakers to conclude the session as constitutionally required by April 15.
Budget talk in the House earlier in the week involved passage of the biennial state Transportation Cabinet budget bill, an appropriations measure that funds Cabinet operations and highway maintenance as well as projects in the next biennial state Highway Construction Plan known as the “Road Plan.” On Wednesday, both Transportation Cabinet budget and the proposed 2020-2022 Road Plan, found in a separate bill, received House approval and advanced to the Senate.
The budget in HB 353 is a $4.7 billion spending plan that would fund over $2 billion in highway and bridge projects throughout the Commonwealth through fiscal year 2022. The House voted 71-14 earlier in the week to approve HB 353, with the Road Plan projects approved separately with a 72-12 vote for passage of HB 354. Projects in Road Plan were prioritized with an emphasis on safety, with millions of dollars in funding going toward guard rail improvements, railroad crossing upgrades, and numerous other safety needs, among other provisions.
Both of those bills awaited Senate action at the close of business last week, as did House Joint Resolution 66 — a separate measure approved on a House vote of 74-10 that contains road construction projects recommended for funding outside the biennium through fiscal year 2026, or what lawmakers often call the “out years.”
The remaining four days of the 2020 Regular Session will be focused on budget matters, as any biennial budget session is supposed to be. Any further change to the session calendar will be made public through weekly wrap-ups like this one, as well as via the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website at https://legislature.ky.gov/, or other official avenues so that all citizens are made aware of the session’s progress.
If you have any questions or comments, 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.