FRANKFORT — The biggest issue of the General Assembly’s 2021 session advanced this week as the Senate and House approved a budget to guide spending in the upcoming fiscal year.
The recent work on a one-year budget was unusual because lawmakers normally craft budgets that cover two-year cycles. But with the pandemic spreading at the time budget negotiations were occurring last year, lawmakers decided to limit themselves to making a one-year spending plan at that time so that they could return this year and handle next year’s budget. The thinking was that the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic would make it difficult to make revenue projections two years in advance.
The state spending plan lawmakers approved this week is largely a continuation budget, with some modifications. Steps to strengthen the budget’s structural integrity are key features of the spending plan, according to its supporters. As part of this effort, lawmakers plan to add more money to the state’s budget reserve trust fund – better known as the “rainy day” fund. By raising the rainy day fund’s balance to $958 million, the state would have a reserve to cover the cost of emergency operations for 29 days rather than the 10-14 days that could be covered by the current reserve.
Lawmakers also took steps to ensure road funding goes toward road projects, as intended by the state constitution. Supporters of the measure say this will allow an extra $58 million in funding to go into Kentucky’s Road Fund instead of being siphoned off for other matters so that state will be in a better position to help transportation projects move forward.
The budget lawmakers approved also stopped an accounting maneuver that recorded the last payroll of a fiscal year in the upcoming year’s ledgers. This caused state employees to be paid slightly late once a year. By ending that practice, lawmakers signaled that the state will make payroll payments in the year they are due.
Besides the budget, many other pieces of legislation were approved and sent to the governor’s desk this week. Bills that received final passage by the General Assembly included measures on the following topics:
Diabetes. House Bill 95 is aimed at helping those with diabetes by capping cost-sharing requirements for prescription insulin at $30 per 30-day supply in state-regulated health plans.
Crime. House Bill 126 would increase the threshold of felony theft to $1,000. Under current law, stealing anything worth $500 or more is a felony.
Commission on race and opportunity. Senate Bill 10 would create a Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity in the legislative branch. The commission would conduct studies and research on issues where disparities may exist in areas including educational equity, child welfare, health, economic opportunity, juvenile justice, and criminal justice.
Worker safety. House Bill 475 would prohibit the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board or the secretary from adopting or enforcing any occupational safety and health administrative regulation that is more stringent than the corresponding federal provision.
Newborn safety. House Bill 155 would allow the use of a “newborn safety device” when a newborn is being anonymously surrendered by a parent at a participating staffed police station, fire station, or hospital. The device would allow a parent surrendering an infant to do so safely using a receptacle that would trigger an alarm once a newborn is placed inside so that medical care providers could immediately respond and provide care to the child.
Peace officers. Senate Bill 80 would strengthen the police decertification process by expanding the number of acts considered professional wrongdoing. Such acts would include unjustified use of excessive or deadly force and engaging in a sexual relationship with a victim. The bill also would require an officer to intervene when another officer is engaging in the use of unlawful and unjustified excessive or deadly force. It would also set up a system for an officer’s automatic decertification under certain circumstances and would prevent an officer from avoiding decertification by resigning before an internal investigation is complete.
Broadband. House Bill 320 would expand broadband internet service to underserved areas with $250 million for the broadband deployment fund. The bill would also reduce for barriers for electric cooperatives to offer the service.
Vaccinations. Senate Bill 8 states that any child, emancipated minor, or adult would not be subject to mandatory vaccination if he or she or the parent or guardian submits a written sworn statement objecting to the immunization based on conscientiously held beliefs, religious beliefs or medical reasons.
Lawmakers are now in the veto recess, the period of time in which they return to their home districts while waiting to see if the governor issues any vetoes. Once that time period runs out, lawmakers will return to the Capitol for the final two days of the session, March 29 and 30, and will consider whether or not to override any vetoes.
If you’d like to offer your feedback to lawmakers on the issues confronting Kentucky, please call the General Assembly’s toll free Message Line at 800-372-7181.
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