Legislature working on budget, acts to pass COVID-19 relief bills
While I want to share information about what we are doing in Frankfort to address the COVID-19 spread, I would like to start this week’s update by sharing a little bit about my thoughts on what we are facing. Our state, nation, and world are facing an unprecedented challenge in dealing with this new strain of the Coronavirus. Drastic but necessary steps have been taken to control the spread in order to prevent our medical providers and health care system from being overwhelmed. The only way we will be able to combat this virus is by standing united and working together, just like we have overcome every other challenge in our state’s history. Love and prayers for each of you as we weather this crisis.
The Kentucky General Assembly is responding to this outbreak and acting to help our Governor and Kentuckians. While some have questioned our decision to remain in session, we know that our constitutional obligation is more important now than at perhaps any other time. As you may know, we returned to Frankfort on Tuesday, March 17, to continue work. We had passed the state budget on March 6, the Senate was still working on their version. They were able to pass it Thursday, March 19. However, it included several changes that my colleagues in the House could not support. I eagerly voiced my support to not concur with the Senate’s version. I would never have voted to support the measure the Senate returned to us. I had been instrumental in working on the educational component of the House budget and was proud of the document we crafted and sent to them. The budget is now in a working group called a free conference committee, where members of both chambers will work out a third version that hopefully, everyone can agree to support. We must have the budget to the Governor by April 1 in order to allow us time to consider any vetoes he plans to make. Again, it is important that we be in Frankfort to override any veto action of the Governor’s we deem necessary.
The $23 billion state budget provides funding for every single state agency and program. We are facing what could be one of the worst health and economic disasters in world history and the legislature has a responsibility to the people of Kentucky. If we leave here without a budget, state government will shut down because only the legislature can allocate money. That means public health, child welfare, unemployment insurance, and hundreds of other programs critical to Kentuckians during a health crisis will cease to exist.
While the Senate was using their time to work on the budget, we used ours to pass legislation that will help the state respond to COVID-19, and other priority bills that were still pending. For example, we approved measures that will keep state dollars going to our school districts and help employees and employers cope with lost wages and lost business. Only the legislative branch has the authority to enact laws, even in a state of emergency. This is something that needs to be clear across the Commonwealth. We have a job to do, just as the Governor has his role in leading the state though the uncharted territory in which we find ourselves. As House Education Chairwoman, it was important to me that we provide in statute what is available to districts in terms of addressing instruction in a non traditional manner, how we will calculate SEEK funding following this break within in school instruction, among other critical issues of concern. As we awaited the Senate’s budget, I was busy presenting legislation. I presented two bills on the floor of the House, spoke to the Education COVID-19 bill on the House Floor, and presented a bill to the Senate Education Committee, which was put on consent, and in now headed to the Governor for his signature. Each and every day, I assure you, the Lady from Whitley 82 is working for our district to have a voice and a position to have input on all important legislation of the House. It is important to me that you know my position in Frankfort, and my every action on your behalf.
Before I close, I want to share that I am grateful to our Governor and our President for their efforts to address COVID-19 on a state and federal level. While Governor Beshear and I do not align politically on many issues, particularly social, and I feel he should speak to the closing of Planned Parenthood, as they perform elective procedures, he has made sound decisions, often following the Governor of Ohio, with a calming and reassuring attitude. I appreciate he is keeping us updated on the situation and reminding everyone of our responsibilities in winning this battle with this virus. Moreover, we are blessed to have public health officials like Dr. Steven Stack with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, Dr. Andrew Fauci with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birz who is serving as coordinator of the Corona Virus Response Coordinator, have also done a phenomenal job. They continue to work, day in and day out to do everything possible to stop the spread of COVID-19. I do not envy their responsibilities, but I certainly appreciate their leadership and guidance. I hope everyone will heed the warnings they have issued.
Please continue to stay informed on this issue. The Governor and the Department of Public Health have put together resources, including this website, www.kycovid19.ky.gov. Please visit the website above for accurate and update information on the spread of the virus. If you think you have symptoms but are not experiencing a medical emergency, please call the COVID-19 hotline at (800) 722-5725 before you seek medical care.
We are Kentuckians, and we are strong and resilient. Listen to the advice of the medical professionals. Stay home if you are sick. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing and encourage those around you to do the same. We will get through this together. Kentucky is better when we are united.
Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s update. I can still be reached by the toll-free message line if you have any comments or questions, just call 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail Regina.firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov. I have a presence on Facebook and Twitter where you can find updates, as well; or you leave me a message on my personal cell phone 606-524-0227.
It is a privilege to serve you.