A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Sen. Chris McDaniel: Busy session throughout as legislature overrode vetos, forged budget, more


Every session of the General Assembly has a certain amount of ebb and flow throughout its course. I can say that this year has been the busiest of all that I have seen. From a budget in a short year for the first time in modern history to the pandemic and executive orders, things remained busy throughout. With the restrictions on in-person meetings, I engaged in countless Zoom and phone meetings with constituents, interested parties, the administration, and more.
 
Over the past three weeks, I have worked on negotiating the Commonwealth’s budget, passing reform for our pension systems, rural broadband, and Educational Opportunity Accounts. Further, two of my bills, Senate Bill (SB) 169 and SB 214 passed this week. The first increases the pension benefit to Law Enforcement and First Responders who are totally and permanently disabled in the line of duty. The second helps NKU execute their orderly exit from the Commonwealth’s beleaguered pension systems.

Sen. Chris McDaniel

In other news, the House and Senate have overridden the Governor’s vetoes on Senate Bill 3 and House Bill (HB) 6. Since both of these measures contain what’s known as an emergency clause, the bills go into effect immediately upon becoming law rather than 90 days after adjournment.

We’ve now entered into the veto recess period, which means this week was the last opportunity for lawmakers to 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.

Below are several of the highest profile bills we’ve passed in the last couple weeks:

Senate Bill 5. This bill that works to mitigate the negative impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Kentucky’s economy and infrastructure. If made law, SB 5 would provide liability protections for premises owners or leaseholders, including places of worship, schools, restaurants, medical facilities, and more. It would also establish essential services protections for food suppliers, manufacturers, distributors of personal protective equipment, child care service providers, and other businesses deemed essential. The measure, however, would not protect entities that act in a malicious or grossly negligent way to ignore safety orders during a state of emergency.

Senate Bill 122 would prohibit a state contract from being awarded to a business if it was already awarded the same or similar contract and if a contract was awarded through an executive agency lobbyist who was convicted of a crime related to contracts. It also prohibits a person associated with an agency from participating in a contract procurement for one year after termination.

Senate Bill 128 provides any student enrolled in a Kentucky public school in grades K-12 during the 2020-21 school year the opportunity to request to participate in a temporary program during the 2021-22 school year to retake or supplement the courses or grades the student has already taken. The ultimate decision of providing this opportunity will be left to local school districts, which must decide to accept all student’s requests or none at all.

House Bill 208 addresses the issue of getting our students back into schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this bill, local school districts MUST offer, at least, a hybrid schedule where all students are able to attend in-person classes a minimum of two days a week by March 29, 2021. Districts would still be able to offer virtual or remote learning for students whose Parents/Guardians provide written requests due to COVID-19 concerns. As a society, we have figured out a way to safely open restaurants, shopping malls, and movie theaters. It is time we finally do the same for Kentucky’s youth by prioritizing a pathway to normalcy for our schools.

The executive budget, contained in House Bill 192, is as a near continuation budget from the previous fiscal year with necessary modifications. In addition to making structural changes that would ensure the road fund was spent on roads, the executive budget would put $134 million into the rainy day fund this year and another $609 million next year.

The executive budget also includes a 2 percent increase in funding for higher education through a performance-based model, targeted raises for crime lab technicians, and money for the coroner’s office. This budget also addresses Kentucky’s severely outdated unemployment insurance system.

This budget’s spending plan would also return coal severance money, or the tax revenue from mining coal, back to coal-producing counties at record percentages. $37 million in federal dollars will go towards grants to detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 infections in congregate and vulnerable populations. Additionally, $10 million in state dollars will go to the School Facilities Construction Commission for schools recently damaged by flooding.

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.

Senate changes to the budget’s accompanying revenue measure, known as House Bill 249, would allow the motor vehicle commission to charge new fees, expand the film industry tax credit, increase the cap on the historic preservation tax credit, allow a one-year property tax exemption for veterans service organizations and deal with an emergency disaster relief account within the road fund.

We are taking a careful and conservative approach as we continue to navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. The state has received many one-time dollars from the federal government through the CARES act and the most recent federal stimulus package. Due to these federal funds boosting 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 to help 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.

A critical element in the economic growth of our state is access to reliable internet services for Kentuckians. Reliable broadband can be the difference in companies determining to locate into our communities. With this in mind, the legislature passed House Bill 320, allocating $250 million of federal money to expand access to broadband connectivity. However, the bills stipulate 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 that need it most. This initial $50 million will get the ball rolling. Legislators will return 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 passed in both the House and Senate include:

House Bill 4, a bill that made final passage this week. HB 4 is a constitutional amendment bill, so it does not require the governor’s signature. Instead, it will go before you, the voters, on the next general election ballot. If supported by a majority of voters, HB 4 would provide the General Assembly with the ability to call itself back into session.

House Bill 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.

House Bill 574 is a bipartisan measure that won support among almost everyone and is headed to the Governor’s desk. I believe the bill will ultimately pass and that the governor would not veto the bill. If passed, it expands access to voting by establishing three days for early voting, including a Saturday. This will ease access for working people not to miss time at work, especially first responders. It will also transition Kentucky elections toward universal paper ballots statewide to ensure there is always a paper trail connected to each vote. It further enhances state officials’ ability to remove the names of deceased voters from the voter rolls. Since taking office, Kentucky Secretary of State Micheal Adams has removed nearly 60,000 names from its voter rolls. These include those who are deceased, have moved out of the state, or have committed crimes that disqualify them from voting. Prohibition and strengthening of penalties are included for “ballot harvesting,” which gathers and submits completed absentee or mail-in voter ballots by third-party individuals, volunteers, or workers, rather than submission by voters themselves directly to ballot collection sites. Additionally, the bill makes the online voter portal permanent for absentee ballots to maintain transparency and for both voters and election officials.

House Bill 9 – This measure is a Constitutional Amendment which, if ratified in 2022 will state that there is no explicit guarantee of the right to abortion nor government-funded abortions in the Kentucky Constitution.

House Bill 563 – This bill will allow for the establishment of education opportunity accounts. These accounts can be funded with a tax credit from donors and then used to pay for a number of tuition and fees for public schools for the lowest income families across the Commonwealth, Further, they can be used for those same items in Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Campbell, Boone, Hardin, Davies, and Warren Counties. These accounts will allow school choice for many families who otherwise would not be able to have any. Further, this bill will allow the potential for students to enroll in public districts outside of the one where they reside and allow the state education dollars to follow them to those schools.

Looking ahead, the General Assembly will return on March 29 and March 30 for the final two days of the session and sine die adjournment. That is when lawmakers will be able to act on any vetoes issued during the recess. Any additional bills passed will not be veto-proof.

Thank you for staying engaged in the legislative process. I continue to be proud and humbled to represent the 23rd Senate District.

Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) represents the 23rd District which comprises northern Kenton County.  Senator McDaniel is Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Revenue Committee. He is also a member of the Senate Standing committees on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor; Licensing & Occupations; and State & Local Government. He serves as an ex-officio member of several Senate Budget Review Subcommittees, including the Economic Development and Tourism; Education; General Government, Finance, and Public Protection; Human Resources; and Justice and Judiciary. Additionally, Senator McDaniel is a member of the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Statutory Committee as well as the Public Pension Oversight Board Statutory Committee.


Related Posts

Leave a Comment