The Kentucky General Assembly has officially begun legislative business for the 2021 Regular Session. Our first official few days back in Frankfort have been productive. Diligent work throughout the 2020 Interim and handling initial procedural responsibilities bring me confidence in what this 30-day session has in store.
This year’s legislative session will be unlike any other. Standard procedures have been altered to avoid the spread of COVID-19, such as limiting the number of people within the Senate Chamber, committee rooms, and legislative suites at one time. Our excellent staff will remain socially distanced, workstations will be adequately sanitized, and masks will be worn to be as safe as possible while still fulfilling our constitutional obligations to the Commonwealth. Also unique about this year’s legislative session will be the responsibility to pass another state budget. For the first time in state history, a biennial budget was not passed. Instead, during the 2020 Session, as COVID-19 made its way into our lives, and not knowing what impacts it would have on state revenue, the General Assembly determined the best course of action was to pass a 1-year budget rather than a 2-year budget. The 2021 budget will be among the most critical efforts in this new 30-day session.
Some priority legislation of the majority caucus has been outlined. The bills are relevant to the topics at the forefront of discussions through the interim. They include measures to address the economic impacts of COVID-19 and the state’s response to it, liability protections for businesses and health care providers, police reforms, and better defining executive authority during a state of emergency. All of these and more have been the issues that have motivated constituents to contact lawmakers’ offices. They will be key topics of discussion and debate, along with other legislation aimed at addressing concerns that matter to the people of Kentucky.
The Senate moved swiftly this week to pass a pair of bills out of the chamber that would place limits on the governor’s use of executive orders and regulations. Senate Bill (SB) 1 would dictate that executive orders that place restrictions on the function of schools, businesses or nonprofits expire after 30 days — unless extended by the General Assembly. The same would go for executive orders that regulate political, religious and social gatherings or impose mandatory quarantines or isolation requirements. This bill has been designated as a 2021 legislative priority because the pandemic brought to light “fractures” in the current laws concerning executive orders. Provisions of SB 1 would also allow chief executive officers or local governments to seek emergency executive orders for their communities beyond 30 days in length.
The second measure, SB 2, would have similar effects and would require some administrative regulations to last no longer than 30 days if, for example, they imposed restrictions on gatherings or mandatory quarantines. The goal of SB 2 is to provide a more logical administrative process, transparency, and legislative oversight to hamper the ability of executive agencies to legislate through regulation, as when regulations are promulgated and accepted, they become law.
Other priority bills passed in the Senate this week include SB 3 and SB 9.
SB 3 would reorganize the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy under the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner’s Office. SB 9, better known as the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act was passed out of the Senate again. That bill assures any baby born-alive will receive lifesaving medical care, even in cases of a botched abortion. SB 9 was passed last year but was vetoed by the governor. Unfortunately the veto occurred beyond the veto override period. That will not be an issue this year if the bill is vetoed again.
These bills are now moving to the House of Representatives for further consideration. The legislature continued business until Saturday this week, completing five official days of the 30-day session.
I am honored to be representing the 1st District in the Kentucky State Senate. I will be keeping you updated over the 30-day session and look forward to hearing from you. Do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have.
If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me Jason.Howell@LRC.ky.gov.
Editor’s note: Sen. Jason Howell (R- Murray) represents the 1st District including Calloway, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Lyon and Trigg counties.