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Kentucky legislators say options are limited, COVID relief must come from Congress, not state

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky legislative leaders say it’s up to Congress to help Kentucky’s struggling families and businesses get through financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think our options are certainly limited on the financial side,” said House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, speaking to reporters after a Legislative Research Committee meeting on Wednesday.

Senate President Robert Stivers (right), R-Manchester, says Congress, not Kentucky, has the financial ability to help local businesses and families with COVID relief. House Speaker David Osborne (left), R-Prospect, says the General Assembly may change some of the emergency powers they gave to Gov. Andy Beshear in issuing executive orders dealing with the pandemic. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

“We don’t have the ability to print money like the federal government does. We have to live within our budget, which is increasingly difficult to balance right now. I think there are some things we can do along the lines of liability relief, regulatory relief, that may help businesses hang on,” Osborne said.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said, “They understand the circumstances that they are dealing with and I think are very well aware of what’s going on here.”

House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, said she believes there are some things the General Assembly could examine.

“We certainly have passed different taxes and tax relief in the past, and I think all those things should be on the table. We should be looking at could we do some kind of relief package for small business,” Jenkins said.

She is very hopeful Congress will act, but tax relief should be examined in the 2021 session.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, noted, “The majority leader of the United States Senate is from Kentucky. I hope he sees that our businesses and our people need help. But if the federal government doesn’t act, I don’t think state government can just point fingers. I think it’s incumbent upon us to do what we can to help the people and the small businesses that are struggling.”

A couple of things that will happen before state lawmakers convene on January 5 is that Congress has until the end of December to act on an extension of the CARES Act or other stimulus package, and the state’s Consensus Forecasting Group meets Friday to predict what state revenues will be over the next year and a half. That will help lawmakers determine what is available when they craft the state budget for the state’s fiscal year that starts on July 1.

According to Stivers, the General Assembly will look at changing some of the emergency powers they gave Gov. Andy Beshear this year in issuing executive orders dealing with the pandemic.

“Extent and duration of time for which a governor can declare an emergency is one thing we’re thinking about,” he said.

Osborne said the current law did not take into account something like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When it was written, it was never contemplated that it would cover something that would go for 10 months and span the entire state, shutting down nearly every business in the state. It was contemplated for acts of terrorism, natural disasters, short-lived things,” said Osborne.

The General Assembly will meet for 30-days, during the so-called “short session,” which must be completed by March 30.

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