A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky legislators return to Frankfort next week; CommerceLex outlines priorities for session

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented economic disruption in Central Kentucky. Now more than ever, says CommerceLEX, it is critical for the business community to stay connected with elected leaders about recovery needs and advocate for policies at the local, state and federal levels of government that help support businesses and economic growth.

State lawmakers return to Frankfort in January for the 2021 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. A top priority for legislators is the passage of the second year (FY21-22) budget. Legislative leaders involved in the appropriations process recently commented it is likely the budget will be a continuation of the current year budget. For the business community, other top issues for advocacy will be policy reforms to expedite the recovery process.

Some of these issues include:

Liability Protections: Commerce Lexington supports the General Assembly providing limited, targeted COVID-19 legal liability protections for businesses, schools and others following state and federal guidelines to avoid costly, frivolous lawsuits and ensure a swift economic recovery.

Unemployment Insurance: Unemployment numbers rose in Kentucky in the wake of COVID-19 due to mandated business closures and additional regulations. Kentucky’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund carried a balance of about $618 million before the pandemic, but the fund dwindled to $0 as the state continued to lead the nation in unemployment. In 2021, business are facing an increase in UI payments per employee due to the drop in the Trust Fund. Commerce Lexington is grateful Gov. Beshear committed allocating a portion of federal CARES Act dollars to the UI fund to begin paying back a federal loan of more than $800 million used to pay benefits. However, Commerce Lexington supports the General Assembly considering reforms to the UI system to minimize the cost to Kentucky businesses while protecting this vital support for employees.

Transportation Infrastructure: Due in part to the pandemic, Kentucky’s Road Fund lost $74.6 million compared to the previous fiscal year. An additional $500 million per year is needed to maintain and improve Kentucky’s roadways and another $200 million per year to maintain and replace deteriorating bridge structures across the state. The recent closure of the Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky, which transports 3% of the nation’s GDP daily, is also highlighting the need for investments to keep Kentucky’s logistics advantage. Commerce Lexington supports the General Assembly modernizing the transportation funding distribution model to make it more equitable for areas with higher levels of transportation activity and needs, and modernizing the method for funding infrastructure to better reflect the current state of transportation as well as anticipate future needs on our transportation systems.

Broadband Service: The COVID-19 crisis has also made clear that broadband infrastructure is critical to economic development. Commerce Lexington encourages the General Assembly to make investments to help close the gaps and increase the deployment of wired and wireless networks including in underserved areas of Central Kentucky to improve access for remote learning and work.

Education and Workforce Development: In recent legislative sessions, the General Assembly has taken great strides to address the workforce challenges faced by Kentucky employers by investing in education and removing barriers to work. In the 2021 budget, Commerce Lexington supports prioritizing investment in all education levels, funding for critical workforce training initiatives, such as the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program, removing barriers to work by funding substance use disorder treatment, and stabilizing and expanding Kentucky’s childcare sector.

Signature Industries: Commerce Lexington also supports efforts to help Kentucky’s equine industry remain competitive such historical horse wagering and sports betting. Commerce Lexington also supports the General Assembly to providing direct and meaningful financial assistance to the tourism industry to help businesses survive pandemic restrictions.

See Commerce Lexington’s 2021 Policy Statements document here.

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