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Friday, March 27, 2020

This Week at the State Capitol: Mar. 23 - 27

The following was released by LRC Public Information;

FRANKFORT -- Progress continued this week on two matters considered top priorities by many state lawmakers: the next state budget and relief for workers and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the schedule for the General Assembly's 2020 session abbreviated in response to COVID-19 precautions, the Senate and House convened one day this week. Lawmakers serving on a budget conference committee also met this week to continue ironing out differences among proposals that would guide state spending over the next two years. Many say the next budget is likely to be austere -- more so than expected just several weeks ago -- as a result of the pandemic and the economic downturn. Lawmakers are working with an eye toward having a budget plan both chambers can vote on next week before a veto recess begins.

Broad bipartisan agreement was reached on efforts to provide COVID-19 relief this week. On Thursday, both the Senate and House approved Senate Bill 150, legislation that originally dealt with out-of-network insurance billing but was amended after the virus that causes COVID-19 arrived in Kentucky to strengthen the state's response and offer relief to those impacted by the pandemic.

Senate Bill 150 would loosen requirements for unemployment benefits and extend help to self-employed workers and others who would otherwise not be eligible. It would also:

·         Expand telemedicine options by allowing out-of-state providers to accept new patient visits. Insurers would be required to cover those visits at the same rate as in-person visits.

·         Provide immunity for health care providers who render care or treatment in good faith during the current state of emergency. It would also give immunity to businesses that make or provide protective equipment or hygiene supplies that are outside their usual scopes of business.

·         Extend the state's income tax filing deadline to July 15, the same extension offered by the federal government.

·         Address open meeting laws by allowing meetings to take place utilizing live audio or live video teleconferencing.

·         Require the governor to declare in writing the date that the state of emergency ends.

The legislation was approved by both chambers on Thursday. The Senate approved the bill on a 30-0 vote and the House approved the measure 82-0 before sending it to the governor's office.

Other bills approved over the past week include the following:

House Bill 415 would allow distillers, wineries, and breweries to be licensed to ship their beverages directly to consumers. Packages would have to be clearly labeled and signed for by someone 21 or older. Shipping to "dry" areas that don't allow alcohol sales would be prohibited. The legislation was approved by the Senate 21-11 on Thursday. The bill has been delivered to the governor.

House Bill 2 would require a national anti-human trafficking hotline number to be advertised in airports, truck stops, train stations and bus stations. Posters with the hotline number are currently required in rest areas. The bill would also close a loophole in the state sex offender registry by adding specific human trafficking offenses to the definition of a sex crime. Those convicted of human trafficking offenses would face a minimum $10,000 fine. House Bill 2 was approved by the Senate 33-0 on Thursday and has been delivered to the governor's office.

Senate Bill 72 would ban female genital mutilation, which the World Health Organization describes as procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedures are mostly carried out on young girls. Kentucky is among 15 states where they are not illegal. Senate Bill 72 would make performing female genital mutilation on minors a felony, ban trafficking girls across state lines for the procedure and take away licenses from medical providers convicted of the practice. On Thursday, the Senate concurred with a House amendment that placed an emergency clause in the legislation so that it would become effective immediately upon being signed into law. The bill has been delivered to the governor.

To offer feedback to lawmakers on the issues under consideration, call the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

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