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January 4, 2021 6:19pm

Kentucky 2021 legislative session preview

The Kentucky General Assembly will convene on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, for its odd-year, thirty-day, short session, and is currently scheduled to meet four legislative days until January 8 when it will recess before reconvening on February 2 for the remaining 26 legislative days. Sine die adjournment is currently scheduled for March 30.

While it is customary for the first four legislative days of the short session to be chiefly focused on organizational matters such as the formal election of leaders in each chamber and designation of committee chairs and committee assignments, 2021 may be an exception. It is possible that legislation can move during the first week as happened in 2017. If legislation is considered during the first week, the legislature would need to meet at least until Saturday, the 9th of January for a bill or bills to pass both chambers and could extend into the following week.

Leadership & Partisan Makeup

The partisan makeup of both the House and Senate remain overwhelmingly Republican with the GOP holding supermajorities in both chambers. The November elections saw the Republican majority swell to 75-25 in the House and to 30 to 8 in the Senate.

Constitutional legislative leadership elections will not be formalized until each chamber takes floor action on the first day of the session, however these elections took place in Majority caucus action in December when the following leaders were elected:

Senate

  • Senate President Robert Stivers
  • Senate President Pro Tempore David Givens

House

  • House Speaker David Osborne
  • House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade

The election of partisan officers by the respective Majority and Minority caucus in each chamber has also been completed and is as follows:

Senate 

  • Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer
  • Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams
  • Majority Whip Mike Wilson
  • Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey
  • Minority Caucus Chair Reggie Thomas
  • Minority Whip Dennis Parrett

House

  • Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy
  • Majority Caucus Chair Susan Miles
  • Majority Whip Chad McCoy
  • Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins
  • Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham
  • Minority Whip Angie Hatton

Committee rosters have not been officially announced yet and won’t be formalized until the session begins next week. Committee Chairs have been announced in the House & Senate. Here are the changes from last session:

Senate

  • Sen. Robby Mills – State & Local Government
  • Sen. Wil Schroder – Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor
  • Sen. C.B. Embry – Veterans & Military Affairs

House

  • Rep. Jason Petrie – Appropriations & Revenue
  • Rep. Ed Massey – Judiciary
  • Rep. Kim King – Tourism & Recreation

Political Dynamics

Given the overwhelming Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature and a Democratic governor, vigorous debate is expected as both parties promote their priorities. As is mentioned below, legislative efforts to limit the Governor’s authority could set the tone for how the legislature and Governor will work together during this session.

The Governor is the only Democrat voice in statewide offices and Democrats will be challenged to remain relevant in the 2021 debate. Governor Beshear will deliver a State of the Commonwealth address on January 6 at 7pm, when he will outline his priorities and budget proposal. However, given the GOP supermajorities, they will be able to largely craft their own agenda and budget.

While there are certainly worse problems to have, the magnitude of the GOP’s success may prove to be a somewhat mixed blessing as leadership seeks to keep the large caucus contented and avoid factionalism.  Moreover, the 2023 gubernatorial election is just over the horizon with a deep bench of prospective Republican candidates who will be positioning themselves for a run for the nomination.

Legislative Process

The 2020 session of the General Assembly ended under extraordinary circumstances and unprecedented processes with the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic. The 2021 session will begin and operate under extraordinary circumstances and unusual processes as the pandemic continues.

Access by the public to the Capitol Annex and the Capitol will be severely restricted and limited to those testifying on legislation or by appointments with legislators. It is expected that committee meetings will continue to take place virtually and that the logistics of those virtual hearings will shorten the amount of time that committees will be able to meet. This will likely impact the amount of legislation that can be considered and further we anticipate that the volume and the flow of legislation to be restricted by leadership in each chamber. The Senate has gone as far as removing a chamber rule that forces bills to be referred to committees.

Floor action will also be impacted by COVID restrictions this session. In the House, it is expected that many members will watch floor proceedings from their offices and vote remotely. The Senate plans to meet in Chamber but with modifications to enable social distancing.

Issues

To learn about legislative priorities GLI will be working on in 2021, click here

The pandemic will also shape many of the issues that will be the focus of legislators’ attention in 2021.

Budget

First and foremost is the adoption of a budget for FY 2022, since the 2020 General Assembly deferred a biennial budget because of the economic uncertainty of the times. Revenue estimates for the current fiscal year and Fiscal Year 2022 are more positive than anticipated with an estimated surplus in the General Fund of $126M in FY 21 and $53M in FY 22. The Road Fund also includes better than expected projections with a surplus of $34M and $16M, respectively.

When Governor Beshear introduces his proposed budget on the 6th, it will be much earlier than in a normal budget session. This is because the General Assembly has only thirty days to complete this work, and the process is being expedited.

COVID Related Priority Issues

The Legislature is likely to consider the following COVID related issues:

  • Executive Authority – Majority parties in both Chambers have indicated that they will pass limitations on a Governor’s authority during times of emergency. Bills have been prefiled in the House and Senate, but efforts are underway on consensus legislation that could be acted on very quickly, potentially during the first week.
  • Education – The effects of the pandemic on schools in increased expenses and the effects of long-term closure with reliance on virtual learning will be considered.
  • Liability Relief – Legislators plan to enact limitations on civil liability resulting from Covid 19 litigation. Leaders have said over the past several months that providing liability relief to employers, churches, schools and healthcare facilities is a priority.
  • Unemployment Insurance – Efforts will be made to look at changes to limit rate increases on employers and stabilize the trust fund.
  • Broadband – The pandemic has highlighted the need for better broadband connectivity particularly in rural areas. This may be an area where there is less partisan strife as leaders in both parties and the Governor have discussed the need for investment in broadband.

Other Issues

Other issues will come from unfinished business from the 2020 session. Infrastructure needs and the consideration of an increase in revenue in the Road Fund have been before the legislature for several sessions and will be discussed again in the 2021 session. Various aspects of criminal justice reform and substance abuse treatment have been the subject of interim study and will be before the General Assembly along with law enforcement reforms. Other issues that could be addressed in this short session include telehealth reforms, the Kentucky Supreme Court decision on historical horse racing, and workforce issues.

Legislative Calendar 

The Legislative Calendar for the 2021 session is available online, but here are a few dates to keep in mind under the current calendar:

  • January 5 – Session Convenes
  • January 5-8 – Part I. Organizational Session – Swearing in of new members, formally electing leadership, naming committee chairs, and setting committee rosters
  • January 11-February 1 – Recess – Some committees will meet, but they don’t normally take any action
  • February 2 – Part II, Regular Session Convenes
  • February- 5 – Last day for Bill requests
  • February 12 – Last Day for new Senate bills
  • February 16 – Last Day for new House bills
  • March 15 & 16 – Concurrence Days
  • March 17 -30 — Veto Recess
  • March  30 – Final Legislative Day and Sine Die Adjournment