Alvarado gives update on action in state legislature – Winchester Sun
From Senator Ralph Alvarado
I welcome the return to a normal schedule as the 30 day session of the Kentucky General Assembly has reached the “veto period”. Two more meeting days are reserved for March 29th and 30th, so that the House and Senate can consider passing additional laws and, above all, have time to override the vetoes of bills that have already been passed. In this week’s legislative update, I want to outline some of the key legislative measures that are likely to come into force.
The elephant in the room this year was the need to set up another annual budget. As a reminder: the budgets are traditionally adopted every two years. However, given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 last year, only a one-year budget was passed. Therefore, a different one is required for this session. Now all you have to do is wait for the governor’s decision to sign or veto the budget bill. If a veto is exercised, the General Assembly will override the veto when we return to Frankfurt on March 29th.
The approved budget is an on-going budget that takes a cautious and conservative approach as we continue to address the uncertainty of COVID-19. The state has received a ton of one-time dollars from the federal government through the CARES Act and the latest federal stimulus package. Because of this injection of federal funds into the various sectors of our society, economic prospects and government revenues can be artificially increased. There is no sure way of knowing what government revenues or the economy will be if there is no stimulus money to help prop things up. It would be financially irresponsible for the state to use one-time dollars to attract Kentucky taxpayers to recurring expenses for years to come if we cannot rely on federal funding.
An essential aspect of the budget is that it retains the legislative power to allocate funds under the Kentucky Constitution. The bill stipulates that the General Assembly must approve the use of these funds. US $ 37 million federal funding has been allocated to provide grants to detect, diagnose, track, and monitor COVID-19 infections in communities and at-risk populations. In addition, $ 10 million will go to the School Facilities Construction Commission for schools recently damaged by floods.
A crucial element for the economic growth of our state is the access of the people to internet services. Reliable broadband can determine whether or not businesses settle in communities. With the reliance on virtual learning for our students over the past year, we’ve seen a lack of access to Internet services only exacerbate student struggles in Kentucky. As COVID-19 has forced us to rely on more virtual services, we have also seen growth in telehealth services. At this meeting we asked the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to review such services as they will only become more important in the future. Providing broadband access to all communities and households in our Commonwealth can only improve economic, educational and health outcomes.
With this in mind, lawmakers passed House Bill (HB) 320, which allocated $ 250 million in federal funding to expand broadband access. However, the bills stipulate that no more than $ 50 million can be spent before April next year to ensure that efforts are deliberate, effective, and targeting the areas that are most needed. That initial $ 50 million will get the ball rolling. Legislators will return to the meeting next January to provide ample opportunity to assess the efforts made to date to determine the best way forward. Funding aims to leverage the existing infrastructure and skilled workforce through electrical cooperatives. In reality, the allocated funds are equal to $ 500 million as the $ 250 million will be used as matching funds for the projects.
Other bills that have been finalized and that qualify for a veto override in the event that the governor vetoed them are:
• HB 95 is designed to help Kentuckians struggling with diabetes by capping the cost of out-of-pocket insulin to $ 30 for a 30-day supply. It applies to state-regulated, comprehensive private health insurance plans and the Kentucky employee health insurance plan. It does not apply to Medicare, Medicaid, or self-financed health insurance.
For too long, the high cost of insulin has resulted in patients rationing supplies, resulting in deaths. Others had to make desperate financial decisions to maintain access to their insulin. Kentucky ranks 8th in the nation for diabetes prevalence and the fifth highest state for diabetes-related deaths. Between 2000 and 2018, the percentage of Kentuckians diagnosed with diabetes doubled. Diabetes can be linked to heart failure, stroke, blindness, and much more.
• The draft law of the Senate (SB) 8 provides that persons with religious or conscientious beliefs are excluded from compulsory vaccinations. The bill contains guidelines on employer vaccination for employees of schools, universities and health organizations. I believe we should respect each person’s individual choices, but as a medical professional, I encourage you to opt for vaccination.
• House Joint Resolution 77 extends the specific COVID-19 regulations for a further 60 days. There were numerous executive orders and regulations that were good. The resolution is proof that the legislature can be part of the decision-making process, but unfortunately the governor and his administration wanted to work unilaterally. This joint resolution, which can carry the force of the law, will only take effect if the court ultimately decides on pending legal disputes in favor of the legislature. The governor challenges HB 1 and SB 1 and 2. If these three bills are ratified, lawmakers will have a seat at the table when life-changing executive decisions are made. It’s worth noting that Kentucky is the exception to the rule regarding executive power during a state of emergency. The governor’s contested bills would bring Kentucky better into line with other states in times like these only in terms of oversight of executive power.
Another bill that caught the attention of many citizens was HB 563. The bill aims to support and meet the needs of high school students in Kentucky by creating open boundaries between public school districts. You need to implement policies that allow students outside the community to attend schools within the district. The Per Student Funding (SEEK) would follow the student into the school district he is attending. For counties with more than 90,000 residents, the bill establishes Educational Opportunity Accounts (EOA) financed by tax-deductible donations to help eligible families in certain levels of poverty receive financial support. These funds can be used for various educational needs, including attending another public or private school, purchasing needed resources, or even tutoring.
I’ve long been a supporter of school choice. Currently, the only school choice in Kentucky is for families with the funds to afford their children. This bill is about less fortunate students who do not have the financial means to get the education they and their families want. The EOA part of this bill was set up as a five-year pilot project. With this pilot program we can review the benefits of EOAs. At this point in time, the legislature can reassess it. I also suspect that as part of our commitment to early childhood education, before the end of the session, we will see a bill to fund all-day kindergarten.
I’m happy to report that several invoices I sponsored made the final pass. They were described in my previous legislative updates. These include measures to ensure public trust in the donation of human organs (SB 12), to improve government efforts to combat and combat colon cancer and dementia-related diseases (SB 16 and 74), and to care for people with mental health problems (SB) 21 ) enable private institutions and organizations to support the insured with their health costs (SB 44), improve access to the necessary care and protect patients from unnecessary costs (SB 45). I am grateful to my colleagues for supporting these calculations.
Many invoices have not yet passed, but can still be passed on the last two days of the meeting. However, if they vetoed them there is no need to override them and they would not become law. One of them is a bill related to elections in Kentucky that has been supported by both parties, and I expect the governor will go along with the bill.
HB 574 extends access to voting by setting three days for early voting, including a Saturday. This facilitates access for working people, especially first responders who do not miss any time in the workplace. Also, Kentucky nationwide elections are moving to universal paper votes to ensure that there is always a paper path associated with every vote. It also improves the ability of state officials to remove the names of deceased voters from electoral rolls. Since taking office, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams has removed nearly 60,000 names from his electoral roll. This includes those who have died, moved out of the state, or those who have committed crimes that prevent them from voting. The prohibition and tightening of penalties are intended for the “ballot harvest”, in which completed postal or postal ballot papers are collected and submitted by third parties, volunteers or workers instead of being submitted directly to the polling stations by the voters themselves. In addition, the draft law makes the online voter portal for absentee votes permanent to maintain transparency as well as for voters and electoral officials.
The Kentucky General Assembly has hit the home stretch of the 2021 session. Now we are waiting for the governor to decide on the various laws that we have put before him. Please call me at toll free 1-800-372-7181 or email me at [email protected] Be sure. God bless.