Girdler gives update on legislative action

This week’s 30-day Regular Session activity ended with dozens of bills on the Governor’s desk. Having already completed 28 legislative days, both the House and the Senate raced to approve bills through the process until the figurative and literal 11th hour.

This week marked the beginning of the veto recess, which means Tuesday, March 16 was the last day lawmakers could pass bills and still have the opportunity to override any gubernatorial vetoes before the final day of the legislative session. The Governor has 10 days to sign a bill, let it become law without his signature, or veto it.

The Kentucky General Assembly approved the second half of the state’s 24-month spending plan this week after uncertainties from COVID-19 cut budget negotiation short nearly a year ago.

We are continuing to take a careful and conservative approach as we continue to navigate the pandemic’s uncertainty. The state has received a lot of one-time dollars from the federal government through the CARES act and the most recent federal stimulus package. Due to these injections of federal funds into our society’s various sectors, the economic outlook and state revenue may be artificially inflated. There is no sure way of knowing what state revenues or the economy will look like once there is no stimulus money helping to prop things up. It would be financially irresponsible for the state to use one-time dollars to put Kentucky taxpayers on the hook for recurring expenses in future years when we will not lean on federal funds.

An essential aspect of the budget is it maintains legislative authority on the allocation of funds, as required by the Constitution of Kentucky. The bill stipulates that the General Assembly must authorize the use of these monies. Thirty-seven million dollars of federal money has been designated to provide grants to detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 infections in congregate and vulnerable population settings. Additionally, $10 million in state money will go to the School Facilities Construction Commission for schools recently damaged by flooding.

A critical element in the economic growth of our state is people’s access to reliable internet services. Reliable broadband can be the difference in companies determining to locate in our communities. With the reliance on virtual learning for our students this past year, we have seen how a lack of access to internet services only exacerbates Kentucky students’ struggles. Furthermore, as COVID-19 forced us to rely on more virtual services, we have seen growth in telehealth services. Bringing internet access to the areas currently without it can help improve our economy, education, and even health outcomes.

With this in mind, the legislature passed House Bill (HB) 320, allocating $250 million of federal money to expand access to broadband connectivity. However, the bill stipulates that no more than $50 million can be spent before April of next year to make sure efforts are deliberate, effective, and will go to the areas of most need. This initial $50 million will get the ball rolling. Legislators will return to session next January to provide ample opportunity to assess the efforts made between now and then to determine the best path forward. The funding will be targeted to utilize existing infrastructure and the experienced workforce through electric co-ops. In reality, the allocated funds will equate to $500 million because the $250 million will be used as matching funds for the projects.

Other bills that have made final passage and that will qualify for a veto override should the Governor veto them include:
• HB 95 aims to help Kentuckians struggling with diabetes by capping the cost of out-of-pocket insulin at $30 for a 30 day supply. It applies to state-regulated, comprehensive, private health insurance plans and the Kentucky employee health plan. It does not apply to Medicare, Medicaid, or self-funded health plans.
For too long, the high cost of insulin has caused patients to ration their supply, resulting in a loss of life. Others have had to make desperate financial decisions to maintain their access to their insulin. Kentucky ranks 8th in the nation in diabetes prevalence and is the 5th highest state in diabetes-related deaths. Between 2000 and 2018, the percentage of Kentuckians diagnosed with diabetes doubled. Diabetes can be associated with heart failure, stroke, blindness, and more.

• Senate Bill (SB) 8 provides for opting out of mandatory vaccinations for people with religious or conscientiously held beliefs. The bill maintains employer immunization policies for employees of schools, universities, and health care organizations.

• House Joint Resolution 77 extends specific COVID-19 regulations an additional 60 days. This joint resolution, which can carry the force of law, will be effective only if the court ultimately rules in favor of the legislature on pending litigation. The Governor is challenging HB 1 and SB 1, and SB 2. Those three bills, if upheld, provide the legislature a seat at the table as life-altering executive decisions are made. It is worth noting that Kentucky is the exception to the rule regarding executive authority during a state of emergency. The bills being challenged by the Governor would merely bring Kentucky more in line with other states in regards to oversight of executive authority during times like these.

• HB 328 relates to the regulation of roadside billboards. For some background, a court ruled last April that Kentucky’s billboard regulations were unconstitutional. This spurred many companies to begin raising signs that did not comply with state rules on size and proximity to roads. Some of you may have noticed more billboards popping up over the last year. Some have described it as a “Wild West” environment. HB 328 restored the law with constitutional language.

If you have any questions or comments about any public policy issue or the 2021 Legislative Session, I certainly want to hear from you. You can contact me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Rick.Girdler@lrc.ky.gov.

Senator Rick Girdler (R-Somerset) represents the 15th District, including Boyle, Lincoln, and Pulaski Counties. Senator Girdler is the co-chairman of the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee. He also serves as vice-chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Banking and Insurance and is a member of the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee.