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March 23, 2020 11:41am

KYGA20: Eleventh Week Wrap-up

The eleventh week of the 2020 60-day session of the General Assembly took place under the looming cloud of the Coronavirus pandemic. The legislative week was shortened by a Monday recess and when legislators came back in session on Tuesday they worked under a different protocol. Governor Beshear had closed access to the State Capitol Building and legislative leaders further limited access only to legislators, essential staff and the media. Others were allowed to enter the Annex with permission of Committee chairs to testify on legislation but were required to leave immediately after their testimony was completed. 

The General Assembly upon completing their business on Thursday evening recessed until next Thursday, March 26. The Conference Committee on the budget, HB 352, will begin on Monday and is expected to be televised. After meeting in session on March 26, the General Assembly is expected to recess again until April 1 when the final vote on the state budget and other bills that the legislature wants to preserve its ability to override a veto on will be held. 

Political Dynamics

The fact that the legislature was in session at all was controversial as members of both parties and the Governor urged the General Assembly to either recess until mid-April or to simply pass a budget and adjourn the session. The Majority Leadership in each chamber proposed an alternative plan to the Governor, where he would call a special session and the current regular session would be adjourned. This would have allowed the Legislature to finish their work on the budget and remaining legislation without running up against the constitutional adjournment date of April 15. The Governor was unwilling to give the General Assembly an open-ended call preferring to limit a special session to passing a state budget and providing coronavirus relief. No agreement was reached and the Legislature continued its work, passing several bills.

The Biennial Budget

The primary focus of attention during the week was adoption of the state budget, HB 352. The Senate’s version of the bill, which was unveiled in the Senate A & R Committee on March 18, makes significant changes to both the budget proposed by Governor Beshear and the House’s version. Some of the main differences are: 

  • Directing $1.13 billion in KTRS pension payments to a holding account until changes are made to retirement benefits for new teachers, if the changes are not made these funds would go to KRS pensions;
  • Elimination of teacher raises while increasing the SEEK per-pupil funding for school districts to $4,161 in each fiscal year and leaving it to local school districts to raise teacher salaries;
  • State employees receive a 1 percent raise in FY 21 and another 1% in FY 22 contingent on state revenue;
  • Appropriates $222 million to the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund, as compared to $10 million in Gov. Beshear’s budget and $89 million in the House version,
  • Allocates Volkswagen Settlement Funds to public transit agencies for purchase of new buses and allows for purchase of electric vehicle charging stations, but does not provide VW funds for school buses.

The Senate’s changes to the budget drew criticism from Governor Beshear and teachers and education groups, as well as from House Majority Floor Leader and A&R Chair Rudy whose speech on the during his motion not to concur prompted cheers on the House floor.

The budget now moves to a conference committee appointed by each chamber that will begin meeting on Monday to resolve differences in the respective versions. The General Assembly will have until April 1 to finally pass a budget in order to preserve its ability to override a gubernatorial veto. A good deal of other budget related business remains as the Senate has yet to pass HB 351, the revenue bill, HB 353 the Transportation Cabinet budget or HB 354, the road plan.  

Other priority legislation

The week’s activity saw significant movement on priority legislation of interest:

  • HB 1 (Rep. Meade) Public Assistance Reform has received two readings and is in Senate H&W ;
  • HB 3 (Rep. McCoy) extending statutes of limitation for certain civil actions – assigned to Senate Judiciary;
  • SB 1 (Sen. D. Carroll) the sanctuary city bill has received two readings and is in House Judiciary;
  • SB 4 (Sen. Higdon) to replace the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation over the road fund has two readings and is in House Transportation; and
  • SB 5 (Sen. Alvarado) to limit the taxing authority of special districts has been delivered to the Governor.
  • Coronavirus Relief – The House Banking & Insurance Committee on Thursday held a special meeting where it adopted a committee substitute to  SB 150 stripping the original provisions and inserting language to give the Governor broad powers during the current state of emergency. While the amended SB 150 was quickly adopted by the House 84-0, the Senate did not take up the bill, leaving it for possible action on the General Assembly’s return. Some of the bills provisions, include: 
    • Suspend licensing fees and requirements of administrative bodies, 
    • Waive unemployment insurance laws, 
    • Suspend requirements on telehealth services, 
    • Mirror tax filing requirement adopted by the IRS to state taxes. 

Legislative Calendar 

The updated Legislative Calendar for the session has legislators only using 53 of their allotted 60 legislative days. A few dates to keep in mind under the current calendar:

  • March 26 – Legislative Day following recess
  • March 27 thru March 31 – Recess
  • April 1 – Return to act on legislation
  • April 2 to 13 – Veto Recess
  • April 14 & 15 – Two Final Legislative Days with Sine Die Adjournment scheduled for April 15